Land Protected for Bruce Vento Sanctuary Center (MN)

Saint Paul, MN, 7/17/2008: Take a guided tour to the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary – just a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River and downtown St. Paul – and you will see and hear about a gem sparkling with stories: a fresh spring-fed stream, wetlands, and prairie nurtured by hundreds of children and youth through school groups and other programs; waters and a cave sacred to Native Americans; historic lore about the sawmill and brewery that once operated on the site. Now this site will be home to a future interpretive center, made possible by a land acquisition announced today by The Trust for Public Land (TPL), the City of St. Paul, and the Lower Phalen Creek Project, so that these rich stories can be shared with future generations.

“This center will bring to life our connections to the Mississippi River, the natural areas and wildlife, and the role this land played over hundreds of years, as well as the modern story of a community coming together to create a remarkable nature sanctuary in the shadow of the St. Paul skyline,” said Bob Bierscheid, Director of Parks for the City of St. Paul, of this latest addition to the National Great River Park.

The 1.85 acres, with a 40,000 square-foot brick building, acquired by The Trust for Public Land today will serve as the gateway to the Sanctuary, a 27-acre former rail yard located at the base of towering limestone and sandstone bluffs along the Mississippi River, just east of downtown St. Paul. A nature sanctuary located so close to a major city’s downtown is an exceptional community asset, and it provides an urban conservation model for other cities around the nation.

“This new facility will make the Sanctuary even more accessible to a wide variety of Minnesotans, from inner city families to downtown office workers to school kids on fieldtrips to recreation enthusiasts and nature lovers from around the state,” said Becca Nash of The Trust for Public Land. “This Sanctuary is bringing Minnesotans together to enjoy our waters, natural areas, and history, and this interpretive center will allow the City and community to showcase this gem.”

Detailed plans haven’t been finalized but the Interpretive Center will either utilize the existing building at 293 Commercial Street or an entirely new building will be designed. Project partners will continue seeking funds for the next phases, including additional acquisition, design and construction.

The Interpretive Center will focus on educating visitors about the natural and human history surrounding the Sanctuary. This area is a sacred site to the Dakota Indians, who consider a cave in the area, “wakan tipi,” a sacred “house of the Spirit.” European settlers in the area established a “squatting village” and built the state’s first brewery and later a railyard on the site. The Center may include historical interpretation, ecological education, water quality and storm water demonstrations, a children’s play area, visitor amenities, and park and other offices.

In addition to the new Center, native plants, including wildflowers, will flourish to replace vacant industrial land. Restoring areas to a natural condition within the Mississippi valley helps sustain songbirds, waterfowl and other wildlife; 40% of North America’s migrating birds and waterfowl use the Mississippi River flyway, and the Sanctuary restoration so far has attracted bald eagles to roost there


A hiking, biking, and walking trail completed in 2007 connects the Sanctuary to downtown St. Paul, surrounding neighborhoods, and the state Gateway Trail leading to the St. Croix River. Eventually the trail will connect to the Sam Morgan Trail that follows the Mississippi River to Minneapolis. The Sanctuary lies within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service, as well as within a Metropolitan Conservation Corridor.

The Trust for Public Land, the Lower Phalen Creek Project, and the City of St. Paul partnered to acquire the original 27-acres of land for the Sanctuary in 2002 and opened the park to the public in 2005. Since that time, local officials and citizens have been working hard to restore the area’s natural beauty: planting, protecting and mulching hundreds of oak trees, and uncovering and restoring a wide variety of natural resources, such as a spring-fed wetland, floodplain forest and prairie. The area gained national attention when it recently won the popular vote as part of HGTV’s “Change the World, Start at Home” community revitalization and environmental initiative, and volunteers flocked to the site to help restore its natural areas and waters.

One of the groups working hard on restoration is the East Side Conservation Corps interns, organized through the Community Design Center of Minnesota. Youth between the ages of 14 and 18 who live or go to school on St. Paul’s East Side have been pulling invasive species, restoring habitat and learning job skills and the importance of being actively involved within their community.

TPL announced today that it has acquired the addition to the Sanctuary and conveyed it to the City of St. Paul to provide a large portion of the required site for the Center. The City will continue working with partners, including state and federal lawmakers, to fund further acquisition, restoration, and development needs. Earlier this year, TPL worked to secure this property while St. Paul lawmakers championed state funding for the project which was then line-item vetoed by Governor Tim Pawlenty. With assistance from the Metropolitan Council Land Acquisition Opportunity Fund, partners were able to piece together the funds for the immediate land protection need. Other needs for the existing sanctuary such as a detailed master plan, interpretive plan and signage, landscaping plan and installation and other improvements will not be met or will be delayed because funding was re-programmed to fill in the gap created by the veto.

“This special place, right in the heart of St. Paul, connects us with our history, and protects natural areas and water quality for future generations,” said State Representative Sheldon Johnson, who served as co-author of the house request for project funding. “We have seen city kids learning here about clean water and wildlife, helping restore nature on this land, and improving our quality of life. Protecting this site has been very challenging; and to fully realize the vision of the interpretive center, funding dedicated to protecting and restoring our lands and waters is essential.”

The need for initiatives such as the Bruce Vento Sanctuary is becoming more urgent as Minnesota’s population continues to outgrow its current open spaces. In twenty-five years, 1.2 million more people will live in Minnesota, and over 1 million acres of Minnesota land will be developed. A million acres is roughly the combined area of Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota and Carver counties.

“Our dream is to create an interconnected web of public parks, lakes, rivers and natural areas in the Twin Cities, particularly in underserved areas,” said Susan Schmidt, TPL Minnesota State Office Director. “Just as visionaries in generations past created our existing parks and trails to serve our generations’ needs, we have to act now for our kids, grandkids and all Minnesotans to enjoy clean water and natural areas.”

Private donors supporting acquisition and restoration efforts at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary include the Butler Family Foundation, Ecolab Foundation, the David B. Gold Foundation, the F.R. Bigelow Foundation, Hudson Foundation, the Huss Foundation, the Lowertown Future Fund, Marbrook Foundation, McKnight Foundation, McNeely Foundation, MEI, MetLife Foundation, The Saint Paul Foundation, Scrooby Foundation, St. Paul Audubon Society, Travelers Inc., Toro Giving Program, Vanaya Foundation, and the Wildwood Fund. Public funders include the Environmental Protection Agency, Metropolitan Council Land Acquisition Opportunity Fund, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the National Park Service, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Metro Greenways Program from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national, nonprofit land-conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Established in 1972, TPL is the only national nonprofit working exclusively to protect land for public enjoyment and use. In Minnesota, TPL has protected more than 84,100 acres valued at more than $83 million including Pilot Knob in Mendota Heights, an addition to Neenah Creek Regional Park in St. Cloud, and nine community gardens in North and South Minneapolis. TPL depends on contributions from supporters to continue protecting land throughout the state.

The City of Saint Paul has great places to visit and fun activities for the whole family to enjoy. Included among its facilities are more than 170 parks and open spaces, the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, one 9 hole and three 18 hole golf courses, more than 100 miles of trails, indoor and outdoor pools, a public beach, sports and aquatics facilities, and wonderful rental facilities for weddings, picnics, and corporate events.

The Lower Phalen Creek Project is a non-profit, community-driven partnership working to fully redevelop the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, achieve local trail and greenspace connections and improve the water quality of our urban Mississippi River watershed.