Coldwater Spring / Fort Snelling

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St. Paul, MN
United States
Coldwater Spring / Fort Snelling

Landscape Information

Camp Coldwater

Hidden from a nearby freeway lies a spring “Mni Owe Sni” that flows through Platteville limestone and emerges just above the top of the bluff along the Mississippi River. Its clear, cold water drew First Nations (Dakota) people to camp, hunt, gather food, meet with Ojibwe and other First Nations tribes, and engage in traditional cultural and spiritual activities. The spring is open all winter and often hosts wild fowl. The water, though still cold, is no longer potable due to construction disturbances and runoff. "Bdote"—the Dakota name for the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers—was a sacred place and a neutral meeting ground between tribes.

The gently sloping 29-acre site was acquired by the National Park Service (NPS) in 2010 to be part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. Since 2012, it has undergone intense Savannah/Prairie restoration efforts by removing invasive plant species and planting native species of grasses and wildflowers. The NPS constructed gravel pathways throughout the site and installed interpretive signage.

The site had long been used by Native peoples before the United States established a military encampment (1820), where soldiers stayed for several years while building Fort Snelling. The post continued to use water from the spring, first hauling it in wagons and then installing a piped system. In the 1880s the fort erected a limestone springhouse, along with a pumphouse, and expanded the reservoir. The springhouse has been partially reconstructed and the reservoir, though lacking its retaining wall, remains as a pond with water flowing down the bluff to the Mississippi River.