Meet me down by the River

Volunteers sharing Desserts

Sometimes it’s hard to understand what the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area really is. Big and unwieldy like the river itself, there are so many things that make this national park worthy of comparison to places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. There are amazing scenic views from places like Fort Snelling and the Franklin Avenue Bridge – and wonderful recreational amenities like the Mississippi River Trail, a bike trail that runs on both sides of the river through two downtowns. Historic landmarks like Kaposia, the summer settlement of the Dakota in Saint Paul, and the Mill District in Minneapolis where modern day food production was created, remind and connect us to the people who lived here before. Nearly 50 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and Osprey make this stretch of river their home. Any one of these things might elevate this place to distinction, but what makes this a national park? Why is the Mississippi River so special that our country has bestowed this place with one of its highest honors? ­­

The physical spaces that make up a park are just spaces without the people to care. And that is where this park earns its accolades and its top place among those glorified parks of the West. The reason why our park matters is because there is a community – our community – that cares about it today. It’s a great responsibility and honor to steward a place that has so much history and a great joy to plan for its future, but it is our stewardship today that provides the enduring connection that is necessary to elevate just any old place into the position of national park. 
On Tuesday night, the National Park Service and Mississippi River Fund celebrated the end of a great summer season with one hundred of our most dedicated volunteers. Tirelessly, these faithful men and women devoted tens of thousands of hours collectively this year to maintaining the landscape of the Mississippi, to introducing new audiences to the beauty and majesty of this place, and to teaching school kids the value of this river that runs through the heart of our Twin Cities community.
Buckthorn busters celebrate a winter haul.

As a volunteer coordinator, I am continually amazed by the dedication of our volunteers to this national park, and their devotion to bringing new audiences into our fold of river rats – and the river provides a real physical space for our community to gather and celebrate. Without us in the picture, this place would just be a river ecosystem (and there are plenty of those), just a transit way to get from point A to point B (like I-94), just a place on a map. It is our community that makes this national park a special place.It’s a labor of real love and it’s fun. And so, an open invitation to the curious: to the teachers, historians, nature lovers, to the seekers, dreamers and scientists all. Join us!

Become a member. Become a volunteer. Go outside and meet me down by the river. 

Let's explore our national park!