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Alternative Routes to Protection: Land Trusts and Public-Private Partnerships
Ultimately, Minnstar Builders Inc. lost the battle to develop Oheyawahi because it would not pay for an Environmental Impact Statement. Yet, As Michael Scott of the MMDC said, “money rules,” so someone still had to put up the money to buy the bluff from Minnstar in order to prevent eventual development. In December 2005, The Trust for Public Land, a private land conservation organization, purchased the 8.5-acre plot of land at Pilot Knob and sold it to the City of Mendota Heights.1 The Trust for Public Land acquired nearly two million dollars in funds for the land from the Dakota County Farmland and Natural Areas Program as well as a number of state grants (Document 1.) As a result, the 25-acre development site is now owned and managed by the City of Mendota Heights.
Pilot Knob is now protected by Mendota Heights as a Natural Resource Area as part of the city's Parks and Open Space plan (Document 2.) While the site is officially protected as a Natural Resource Area, the city is mindful of its cultural importance to many indigenous peoples. In 2007, Mendota Heights contracted Great River Greening, an environmentalist non-profit organization, to manage the site. They developed a Natural Resource Management Plan outlining a strategy to not only restore native vegetation and wildlife, but to ensure access to the site for the public and Indian groups (Document 3.) They created an open area on the bluff with capacity to accommodate large groups for ceremonies and other events. The open area is demarked by seven oak trees, symbolizing the seven branches of the Dakota tribe. The city also accommodated Dakota interests in writing interpretive signs at visitor points on Pilot Knob, describing the cultural significance of the site to the Dakota as well as to Minnesotan history (Image 1.) Additionally, in 2008, the Pilot Knob Preservation Association created a "Pocket Guide to Oheyawahi/Pilot Knob" that guides visitors through the site and explains its cultural, historical, ecological, and spiritual significance (Document 4).
In 2011, Mendota Heights received a $75,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express to remove overhead power lines from Pilot Knob. 2 The project will not disrupt the soil at the sacred site and will improve the area's aesthetic appeal. Leftover funds from the project are being used to bring horses to Pilot Knob to graze on invasive species.
The efforts to restore Pilot Knob to its natural condition are consistent with the goals of the Dakota people. As the scholar and Dakota tribe member Darlene St. Clair points out in "Daḳota Access to Traditional Spaces in an Era of Greening," the "greening" movement can lead to the conflation of aesthetics and sanctity. Like the Minnstar spokesman who equated the “integrity” of the site with previous developments near and on the bluff, “greening” misreads sacredness as a product of stereotypical images of "untouched" or natural beauty and fails to see the true meaning of sacredness for the Dakota people. Nevertheless, the Pilot Knob controversy has resulted in an encouraging outcome that has preserved both the site's environment and the Dakota people's access for religious and cultural purposes.
The Trust for Public Land. "Pilot Knob Bluff Protected (MN)." The Trust for Public Land. Last modified December 22, 2005. Accessed June 20, 2015. http://www.tpl.org/media-room/pilot-knob-bluff-protected-mn. ↩
Pilot Knob Preservation Association. "Mendota Heights receives $75,000 grant for removal of overhead power lines on Oheyawahi/Pilot Knob." Pilot Knob Preservation. Last modified November 21, 2011. Accessed June 20, 2015. http://pilotknobpreservation.org/wp/?p=59. ↩