Pilot Knob Bluff Protected (MN)

Mendota Heights, MN, 12/22/2005- The Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced that part of a well-known scenic overlook in Mendota Heights will be protected as a public natural area. The land conservation organization purchased the 8.5-acre site at Pilot Knob and sold it to the City of Mendota Heights earlier today.

The partial conservation of Pilot Knob is a result of a collaborative effort by the City, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Dakota County, The Trust for Public Land, and the Pilot Knob Preservation Association. “Protecting this portion of Pilot Knob is an extraordinary example of inter-governmental and private sector cooperation,” says Wayne Sames, local grants manager for the DNR. “These partnerships are absolutely necessary for conserving land in metropolitan areas, where land prices and complex urban issues usually make achievements like this beyond the reach of one entity.”

Overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, Pilot Knob offers striking views of the downtown Minneapolis skyline and Fort Snelling State Park, which has made it a prime candidate for development in the past. Three years ago, a private developer announced plans to build high-density housing on approximately 27 acres of the historic hill. Following strong objections from Dakota Indian communities, hundreds of area residents joined historic Native American, religious, and environmental organizations in urging further study of the site and establishment of a public reserve.

As those development plans faltered for the next two years, TPL became involved to help find a positive conservation alternative to conserve the most prominent piece of the property at the north end of the hill. The landowners generously granted TPL an option to pursue this conservation alternative. Dakota County, through its Farmland and Natural Areas Program, committed the first $400,000 of public funding. These funds were used to match $1,050,000 in state funds through the DNR Metro Greenways, Remediation Grant Fund, and the Natural and Scenic Area program. The latter DNR program is funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources. The City of Mendota Heights provided $400,000 and TPL bridged the gap by securing $120,000 in grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and The McKnight Foundation to complete the nearly $2 million acquisition.

“Pilot Knob is important not only for its history but also for what it will offer our residents,” says Mendota Heights Mayor John Huber. “We are pleased that TPL was able to secure an option to purchase this site, and then help us investigate it and obtain funds to ultimately purchase it.”

As public land, the 8.5-acre portion of Pilot Knob will largely remain in its natural state. The City plans to restore native vegetation and construct a series of unpaved paths and an observation area. Once completed, this land will also be accessible to the public from the adjacent Big Rivers Regional Trail.

“The city’s plans to restore tallgrass prairie and oak savanna to Pilot Knob will greatly enhance the land’s value to wildlife as well as to local citizens. Since natural occurrences of these native plant communities have nearly disappeared from the metro area, ecological restorations like this one are especially important,” says DNR Regional Plant Ecologist Hannah Texler. The nonprofit Great River Greening assisted with the restoration plan.

Pilot Knob got its name in the 1850’s when riverboat captains referenced this high point to pilot their boats up the Mississippi into the Minnesota River valley. Around that same time, Minnesota’s first governor, Henry Sibley, climbed Pilot Knob’s steep hill and waxed eloquently about the ‘picturesque beauty’ of the high, stone fort and the two river valleys.

Long before Sibley arrived, Native Americans gathered to perform ceremonies on the site they called ‘Oheyawahi.’ -‘the hill much-visited.’ Dakota Indians and European peoples both selected the hill as a place to honor and remember their dead. It was also from this prominence that the Dakota Indians in 1851 signed a treaty granting the United States 35 million acres of tribal lands west of the Mississippi, forever changing the course of Minnesota’s history.

“Preservation of this site demonstrates how visionary leaders in government, organizations, and individuals can work together to preserve historic, scenic, and sacred sites for our grandchildren,” says Gail Lewellan, Mendota Heights resident and President of the Pilot Knob Preservation Association.

Pilot Knob is part of TPL’s ongoing effort to preserve land along the Mississippi river corridor by working with communities to establish greenways for public access, watershed protection, habitat restoration and community revitalization including redeveloping brownfields to greenspace. “Pilot Knob is a special place to many people for many reasons,” says TPL Project Manager Bob McGillivray. “It would have been tragic to see it lost. Helping communities save places like Pilot Knob is one of TPL’s highest priorities.”

Download Great Rivers Greening Pilot Knob Manangement Plan (PDF)

The Trust for Public Land 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 30,000 acres valued at more than $50 million including the recent protection of the 475-acre DNR State Aquatic and Wildlife Management Area on the Vermillion River in Dakota County, the 3,100 acre Brainerd Lakes Forest Legacy Conservation Easement, the Caponi Art Park in Eagan, an addition to the future Neenah Creek Regional Park in St. Cloud, and the Point Douglas trail near Hastings. TPL depends on contributions from supporters to continue protecting land throughout the state. Visit TPL on the web at www.tpl.org