The Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, located along the north shore of the Mississippi River east of downtown Saint Paul, is a significant site for Native Americans. Wakan Tipi (Spirit House), a cave, is located in the sandstone bluff that rims the north edge of the park. It was a gathering and ceremonial site for Dakota tribes. When Jonathan Carver stopped here in late 1766, he described the cave’s interior as having many incised figures cut into the soft stone. Later visitors to the cave, however, did not describe these same markings; soft sandstone, flowing water, ceiling collapses, or vandalism may have eroded or destroyed them.
The sanctuary was also the site of the North Star Brewery built in 1853. The brewery was later bought by Jacob Schmidt, a famous name in Minnesota brewing history.
In the late 1880s, railroads snaked their way into the area following the easy grades of the flat floodplains and the future park became an industrial area and rail yard.
The area was largely abandoned in the 1970s. Spearheaded by the volunteer-led Lower Phalen Creek Project, the land was purchased in 2002 for conversion into a Saint Paul park. The volunteers, Saint Paul Parks and Recreation, many neighborhood organizations, and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area--some 25 stakeholders in all--removed 50 tons of debris, replaced contaminated soil, and restored the park to a mix of floodplain forest, prairie and oak savanna.
The native plant communities continue to flourish in the 29-acre park, and the wildlife is returning. Three small ponds attract waterfowl. The uplands are home to grasslands bird species. Turkey vultures, bald eagles, and redtail hawks soar along the sandstone bluffs. A spring-fed stream runs through the property. Wakan Tipi is barricaded and not accessible, although the entrance is visible across a pond. Signage near the parking lot and along the gravel/dirt trails helps interpret the site. An outdoor classroom is also available for public use.
For more information, visit www.lowerphalencreek.org/ventosanctuary.