Downtown foundation highlights river preservation

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October 18, 2004 // UPDATED 4:23 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

The McKnight Foundation, a Downtown-based private philanthropic organization, has designated the Mississippi River Gorge between Minneapolis and St. Paul as a "Twin Cities Treasure" -- part of its campaign to preserve metro-area open spaces.

The foundation's Embrace Open Space public-awareness campaign will spotlight the river gorge between the two downtowns in an ongoing multimedia effort to influence Twin Cities land-use policy.

The Mississippi River Gorge, the only true gorge, or deep ravine, found along the 2,350-mile river, was among five "Twin Cities Treasures" selected by the campaign earlier this month. The gorge area stretches from Downtown's St. Anthony Falls nearly to downtown St. Paul.

In its efforts to protect the Mississippi River Gorge, the Embrace Open Space campaign plans to highlight the river's pollution problems, such as excessive urban runoff, littering and exotic species that threaten to destroy the river's natural aquatic life.

The McKnight Foundation is headquartered in the redeveloped Mill Ruins building, 710 2nd St., near the gorge's western edge. The building features preserved remains of the Washburn-Crosby Mill.

In a prepared statement, Whitney Clark, executive director of the Friends of the Mississippi River, applauded "civically engaged neighborhoods" along the gorge that work to promote environmentally sustainable riverfront land-use practices.

"While nearly all of the Mississippi River Gorge is in public ownership, and the land already has been acquired and protected from development, like many other public lands, the health of the gorge is threatened by invasive species and human misuse," Clark said.

Downtown-area neighborhood groups along the river have been active in preservation efforts. For instance, the Nicollet Island/East Bank Neighborhood Association recently passed a motion supporting local efforts to preserve parkland near Boom Island in the face of development pressure.

The Embrace Open Space Campaign doesn't take a formal position on proposed developments, such as high-rise proposals along Downtown's riverfront, but residents living in those areas are encouraged to become active in the review process, said Shelley Shreffler, a McKnight Foundation environmental program officer.

Besides the gorge, this year's selected "Treasures" include the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, 23,000 acres of marshland, forest, lakes, and grassland in Chisago and Anoka counties; the Minnesota River Valley in Scott and Carver counties; the St. Croix River Valley along the Minnesota and Wisconsin border; and the Vermillion River, a 335-square-mile watershed in Scott and Dakota counties.

According to the Embrace Open Space Campaign, the Twin Cities loses more than three acres every hour to development, and an area roughly the size of Minneapolis every seven months.

The campaign's efforts to preserve green space in face of intense development pressure were featured in a program, "The Last 6 Percent: Treasuring our Open Spaces," scheduled that aired Sunday, Oct. 3 on Twin Cities Public Television, channel 17.

For more information on the campaign, visit