Mississippi River Gorge Stewards

 The Minneapolis side of the Mississippi River Gorge ]

The Mississippi River Gorge between Minneapolis and Saint Paul is a unique treasure.

Photo by National Park Service/MNRRA

The Gorge — A Treasure at Risk

The Twin Cities is fortunate to have an ecological treasure like the Mississippi River Gorge — a natural oasis of limestone bluffs, natural springs, oak savanna, and hardwood forests carved out by Saint Anthony Falls over 10,000 years. The River Gorge begins near downtown Minneapolis at roughly St. Anthony Falls and stretches to Crosby Park in St. Paul. (Read more about the natural history of this unique area, part of the Mississippi National Park, on the gorge geology page.)

Today, however, exotic species, careless use, and litter threaten this important area. The quality of the Mississippi River is impacted by urban runoff from our streets, lawns, and waterways. At the same time, many of us treasure the gorge as a place to hike and enjoy nature, and all of us get our drinking water from the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River Gorge is one of the defining features of our community, and many local residents feel the river gives them a sense of place and connection to the natural world. Our community must work together to protect this precious resource for generations to come.

This is where the Gorge Stewards project comes in.


 Gorge Stewards collecting native seeds.]

About the Gorge Stewards

Launched in 2001, the Gorge Stewards project aims to bring neighbors and committed citizens from throughout the metro area together to work toward a common goal of protecting and restoring the amazing resource that is the Mississippi River Gorge.

Read on to find out more about:

• What Gorge Stewards do,

• Where Gorge Stewards activities take place,

• Who funds and partners with FMR on the Gorge Stewards program.

What Do Gorge Stewards Do?

• The primary way people become Gorge Stewards is by participating in one or more of the free hands-on and/or educational weekday evening or weekend events.

Gorge Stewards activities include:
* Buckthorn busts
* Invasive species monitoring
* Native plantings
* Prairie seed collections
* Litter clean-ups
* Interpretive walks
* Plant identification
* Natural history programs

Most events are two to three hours in length and are featured on our events calendar. Events are sorted by date and location, but each description or write-up also includes its program affiliation, such as the Gorge Stewards or Vermillion Stewards. Registration is kept simple and quick, and sign-up information is included on each listing.

• There is also a Gorge Leadership Team, which consists of 20 volunteers who have received higher-level training and in turn make a 25-hour commitment per season to care for the River Gorge. The Team is invite-only; as people leave the team, volunteers who have attended the most volunteer events in the previous season are invited to attend.

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Who can be a Gorge Steward?

If you care about the River Gorge, you too can be a Gorge Steward! Anyone who participates in a Gorge Stewards project or event is considered a Gorge Steward.

• The majority of Gorge Stewards are individuals and families who want to make a difference and give back to the river they love.
• Roughly half of all volunteers come from Gorge neighborhoods (see below), and half from other parts of the Twin Cities and throughout the metro area. We greatly encourage and appreciate neighbors’ involvement and dedication and also seek and welcome groups and individuals from beyond the immediate area to preserve this ecological treasure.

• Occasionally, we are able to work with large groups — companies, organizations, churches, etc. — who would like to do a Gorge Stewards project. If you are part of a larger group, the annual mid-April, Saturday Earth Day cleanup is always a great fit (watch the 2009 clean-up on YouTube), and/or we may be able to plug you into an upcoming event. (If you need to set your own date and time, please consider organizing a group stenciling outing in St. Paul.) Call FMR Volunteer Coordinator sue rich at 651-222-2193 extension 14 to find out more.

• Students who must volunteer for school requirements, or service-learners, are also welcome to join Gorge Stewards events. Advance arrangements are not necessary; students can follow the registration process listed in the event description. (If you are a service learner and find that you cannot meet your time requirements by participated in posted events, please consider organizing a group stenciling outing in St. Paul.)

River Gorge neighborhoods: The project is focused on the area of the gorge between St. Anthony falls and the Minnesota River. Riverfront neighborhoods in the gorge include Longfellow, Seward, Prospect Park, Marcy Holmes and the West Bank in Minneapolis, and the St. Paul neighborhoods of Desnoyer Park, Merriam Park, Mac-Groveland and Highland Park.

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How do Gorge Stewards stay connected?

Being a Gorge Steward means actively caring for the well being of the River Gorge. For some, that means coming to a litter pick-up once a year and once a year only, but for others it means being part of a larger community that shares a deep appreciation of the river and commitment to its care.
Everyone who attends a Gorge Stewards event and provides an e-mail address is added to the Gorge Stewards e-mail list. FMR Outreach & Volunteer Coordinator sue rich sends six to eight e-mails a year, keeping them tightly focused on upcoming Gorge Stewards events as well as additional river-related opportunities (such as notices of free native gardening workshops). Emails are not shared with any other parties without previous consent.
If you'd like to be added to the Gorge Stewards email list, send a message to sue by selecting either "Volunteer" or "sue rich" from the dropdown menu under "Category" towards the bottom of our contact form.

Most Gorge Stewards events are also listed in our Mississippi Messages e-newsletter (for which you can sign up via the blue box at right) and posted on our events calendar.
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Where Gorge Stewards activities take place

Generally speaking, Gorge Stewards activities include many different types of activities throughout the Twin Cities metro area, including many hikes, talks and other events. However, habitat restoration efforts are concentrated on select locations, each with a larger restoration plan in effect. Volunteer events are part of these larger plans. For example, volunteers may remove invasive species at a summer event, other volunteers may plant native species at that location in the fall, and the following spring or summer, there will be another event where volunteers tend the plantings and maintain the area.

Most Gorge Stewards events take place at:
• The oak savanna at East 36th Street and West River Parkway, Minneapolis
This area includes the highest quality plant communities remaining in the River Gorge, including several acres of mesic oak savanna, one of the rarest native plant communities in Minnesota, and oak woodland. While this type of habitat was once widespread throughout the Upper Midwest, it has all but disappeared. However, thanks to hundreds of dedicated volunteers, this River Gorge gem is being restored to its natural splendor, effectively doubling the amount of mesic oak savanna in the metro area.

• The interpretive prairie and surrounding area at Crosby Farm Natural Area, St. Paul
This 4-acre floodplain prairie restoration does double-duty: not only does it help clean polluted runoff before it enters the river, but it serves as a demonstration prairie to help visitors learn about watershed-friendly landscaping. Crosby Farm is located along Shepard Road in St. Paul, just across the river from Fort Snelling; and the prairie area is near the terminus of the main road into the park, Crosby Farm Road. (For directions, enter “Crosby Farm road, St. Paul, MN” into your preferred online mapping programs.)

• Riverside Park on the west-bank bluffs of the Mississippi River just north of I-94, Minneapolis
At first glance, Riverside Park appears to be a quiet, typical neighborhood park. Given a closer look, though, the park reveals complex layers of historical and natural interest. The 40-acre park is actually the first public park in the city. It is located on two levels, with the steep, wooded river bluff and its WPA-era stone stairs and walls separating the upper and lower areas.

• The maple-basswood forest at East 44th Street and West River Parkway, Minneapolis
Home to an array of woodland plants, this maple basswood forest is one of few places in the city where people can experience “the big woods.” This forest plant community provides wildlife habitat, erosion control, and creates organic matter in the soil, but is also threatened by infestation of invasive plant species and suffers from the disturbances that accompany its use by an urban population.

• The sand flats near Lake Street and West River Parkway, Minneapolis
Part of this area consists of large sandy beaches offering wonderful river-edge viewing. These beaches are not natural; they are made of sand dredged from the river and deposited by workers to improve navigation. However, there are native prairie plants in and near the beach which volunteers help to maintain. Volunteers also work in the surrounding floodplain forest.

Please note: Detailed directions and just-for-volunteers maplinks to event meeting spots are emailed to event registrants as part of their confirmation and reminder emails.

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Partnership is Key