Melissa A. Clark, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
It is possible for residents of the Twin Cities to drive over the Mississippi River multiple times a day and still be unaware of parks that allow them to get down onto the riverbank. One way the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area seeks to make connections with residents is to bring schoolchildren into our park!
Each year, Take Me to The River brings hundreds of Title 1 students from St. Paul to Hidden Falls Regional Park. This program works to show youth a local park, where they can enjoy a primitive area, a picnic area, and the scenic falls area. Students learn three survival skills that would have been necessary for people living along the river 200 years ago and about Minnesota history.
Students use compasses and a series of clues to find hidden boxes, which contain animal artifacts. These artifacts are used to teach students about the connections between the Mississippi River, wildlife, and people throughout the history of the Twin Cities region.
Students pass around a water bottle made from a bison bladder. Today hikers and cyclists still use equipment called “hydration bladders” but they are made from modern materials.
Students learn about fire components ( oxygen, fuel, and a spark) and how to arrange tinder, kindling, and wood to make a fire. Each team soon learns that making a spark with flint and steel is harder than it looks in the movies! Students then go a short hike to learn about geology and fossils found at this site, including the 1938 discovery of a giant beaver (Castoroides) skeleton.
A central fire is used as a learning tool and to keep students warm on chilly days.
After a brief presentation on various shelters made by native tribes and frontiersmen, students make their own shelter. Each team then presents their shelter to the group, explaining what they would have done with more time and additional materials.
How do we know students love making shelters? We find them on Monday morning when we return to the site to set up for the new week. Proof that students are making connections with the park and returning with their families to recreate!
Fall 2016 Take Me to The River by the numbers
- 18 volunteers,
- 25 volunteer hours
- 896 youth
- 2 partners – St. Paul Parks and Recreation and Wilderness Inquiry
This program supports National Park Service initiatives like the Urban Park Agenda and Every Kid in a Park but also follows a long tradition of prioritizing access for all people to urban parks in the Twin Cities Metro Area. In 1887, Horace Cleveland, a contemporary of Frederick Olmsted, had selected Hidden Falls as one of the St. Paul parks that would further develop the famous “Grand Rounds” series of parks in Minneapolis. Cleveland’s approach centered on designing parks that protected natural features and were accessible to all classes of residents, rather than only for elites.
Minnesotans value outdoor spaces – it’s part of both history and today’s culture.What role do parks and green space play in your community? How has your town’s attitudes about natural areas changed or remained the same over time? You can support parks through volunteering. To learn more about volunteering in National Parks, visit www.volunteer.gov