United States – Minnesota Interstate Park: An Amalgam of Relaxation and Education — The North Star Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Delaney Babich
This state park means countless things to different people; nature can provide healing, entertainment, education and beauty. To me, this place feels like home.
Ever since I moved to the area I have been drawn to the natural beauty and relaxing energy provided by the gracious conservationists who created this sanctuary. Whenever I am in its boundaries I feel an overwhelming sense of compassion and gratitude. My best friend and I have a connection to the landscape. It is a place for us to blow off steam, to sunbathe, rock climb, take creative photographs and above all, to remember our dear friend Alex who tragically lost his life to our majestic St. Croix River. Words can simply not express the deep love and connection I feel to this place. I lose myself and find peace, meditate and soak up the sun in this space where I can break the hold of conventional societal rule and just be myself. It will always be dear to me, and I will never forget its significance.
It all began billions of years ago with the eruptions of volcanoes from the Midcontinent Rift System. Lava flows poured over the region, hardened and eventually became the landscape of the park. Glaciers from the last Ice Age carved the basalt and sandstone into the cliffs we see there today. The way was formed so perfectly that it became a major transportation route for Native Americans years later, along with fur traders of the 18th century. Around 1837 the logging era was in full swing, and logs were rafted down the St. Croix and through the town of Taylors Falls, where there was a sawmill and camp for production. Many logjams occurred, and people realized it was too tough a spot for such an industry. The logging industry is the reason for development in this area, for the economic boom, and for what grew into a large population. Around 1865, a bill was passed to secure the region as a protected area to stop mining and vandalism. The beginning stages of development started in 1920 and the park has been maintained ever since. Many of the important symbols and rock formation still exist; the state has made it abundantly clear how important the history of this river and its accomplishments are to the people of the area. Highway 8 runs through the park and has become a major vein of transportation from Minnesota to Wisconsin, bringing thousands through the area everyday. Needless to say, this park has become an abundantly important zone in Chisago County.
The entrance of the park is situated in front of Highway 8, giving an open and welcoming feel to this palace of nature. There is a DNR building where you are able to go through a small museum of the history, buy souvenirs, and sign up for educational hikes or a ride on a paddle boat for a relaxing afternoon of sightseeing and historical facts. The structures and formations in this park are spectacular. The entire park has been carved out by glaciers, which left behind tunnels, immense potholes and mind-boggling cliffs. Once inside the park you start to come in contact with the potholes big and small. Some are large enough for you to fit in (one is so deep that there is a staircase leading to the bottom) and others are small enough to fit only your pinky finger into. Either way you get an overwhelming sense of how small you really are. Along with the potholes are gigantic cliffs where you can stand right at the edge, making you feel more alive than ever. The sounds of the river hypnotize you, your height above the water makes you feel powerful, and the sight of seeing so many others enjoy the beauty gives a sense of togetherness. Further into the park there is a place reserved for rock climbing. These are the tallest cliffs in the park, some fully intact but others starting to crumble and create new formations.
Thousands of people have visited this park, coming from all over the state and even the country to explore the formations within its boundaries. Of course only those with cars and enough money to get to the location have visited, leaving many people out of the experience. Mostly middle to upper class families and people come to visit and camp. Those who come seem to interact differently than they might in a city setting; people are polite, they are more open with strangers, and they tend to take many photographs to share with others later. Something about the openness and beauty brings out the best in many people who visit. However, in this small town there is controversy about whether or not the large population of Hmong people who come to fish in the clean waters of the St. Croix are welcome, which can cause them to feel a little out of place when they visit. It is something that those in charge of the park are trying to overcome since they understand that all people should be able to experience such beauty.
What is important to remember is that the Interstate Park is a public space. Anyone is welcome to visit as long as they are respectful and pay the fee to park in the lot, use the campsites, or rent kayaks and canoes. State parks were created to give the public a place for recreational use, relaxation and a chance to get out of the city. They are usually designed for family activities, and can require an extended stay if you don’t live in the area. The growing popularity of this park has led to renovations of the parking lots, campgrounds and even a few of the buildings in Taylors Falls. The town has been tailored to be a tourist town, with a bed and breakfast, restaurants and historical sites throughout its area. This creates more revenue for the town, thus giving the park more motivation to be as pristine as possible. It has become much more than just a conservation effort, it has become a community and life source for the people who care about our environment and prosperity of the town. This place has taken a step in the direction of a museum, providing anything you would like to know about the history and back-story of the town and those living in it. This gives the place a business aspect, which I tend to ignore. I like to focus on the beauty and natural state, not the ways it can create more revenue.
Overall, the park gives you an open feeling, one of imagination and importance. You start to perceive the world differently, forgetting about traffic, hardship, and society in general. The park is a place to get away, to relax and maybe even learn something new about yourself. Anything is possible when you step outside for a minute, when you enjoy the place nature itself has carved out for you to enjoy.
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to contribute to The North Star Reports — HLIANG@CSS.EDU
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The North Star Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School and other schools around the world. The North Star Reports has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
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Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA
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