About The Falls Initiative

The Site

The site of The Falls Initiative is an iconic place on the Central Riverfront in Minneapolis, next to Owámniyomni, St. Anthony Falls. The Upper Lock was constructed in 1959 and allowed commercial barges to navigate over the Falls, upriver to Upper Harbor Terminal. For more than 60 years, the site has been fenced off with limited public access.

The Lock closed to commercial navigation in 2015, and now idle, presents an opportunity to transform the site and return our community to Haha Wakpa, or Wakpá Tháŋka, the Mississippi River.

Before industrialization, the natural Falls and the islands surrounding it were a sacred place for Dakota people. The waters once cascaded over a 50-foot limestone drop and roiled as misty white water through the islands at its base. Dakota people came to Owámniyomni for ceremony, and to Spirit Island, an oasis in the mist kicked up from the falling water, to give birth. Both were destroyed as the River was harnessed and industrialized. The narrow jetty south of the Upper Lock is believed to be all that remains of Spirit Island today. This missing history, from an Indigenous perspective, was rendered invisible for generations.

As westward expansion advanced and soldiers and settlers systematically displaced Indigenous people, the Falls drew a different kind of attention. Industrialists seeking to tame the wilderness and grow wealth through resource extraction saw the Falls as an economic driver capable of powering large scale industries: first sawmilling for the lumber industry, then flour milling, and finally commercial navigation.

The once natural River was harnessed, hardened, and industrialized. As a result, the living River ecosystem was biologically diminished. It became a dangerous place to be, its waters inaccessible to people for generations. 

To Native people, these activities were a desecration, incompatible with a world view in which the River is a spirit and a mother, and in which all living natural things are our relatives.

Timeline

The Upper Lock and the land around it is currently owned by the U.S. government. Since 2016, Friends of the Falls and the City of Minneapolis have advocated for the transfer of land to public control through legislative action. We have also worked to prevent hydropower companies from securing the site to transform it into a power station.

During early phases of engagement (Phases 1-3, 2016-2021), Friends of the Falls built a constituency to move government to action, gained understanding of adopted plans that address this site, listened to community values and priorities, and cultivated knowledge and relationships to fully center the project on Native American voices.

In upcoming phases of engagement (Phases 4-6, 2022-2023), we will educate and engage the community on topics that will inform programming and design, such as connectivity and sustainability. We will weave together direction and priorities voiced by the Native community and the broader public.

MPRB Adopts Riverfront Master Plan

2015
Read more

Upper Lock Closed to Commercial Navigation

2015
Read more

Founding of Friends of the Lock & Dam

2016
Read more

NPS Operates Falls Visitor Center & Conducts Tours

2016
Read more

NPCA releases 'Transforming the Lock' Idea Book

2016
Read more

Mississippi Park Connection activates the Lock

2016
Read more

Meet Minneapolis adopts 'Destination Transformation 2030'

2017
Read more

City Council passes resolution to request $1.5M in state funding for Lock predesign

2017
Read more

Friends of the Lock & Dam launched Phase 1 of engagement

2017
Read more

MPRB passes resolution supporting predesign for Lock visitor center

2017
Read more

Army Corps of Engineers to conduct disposition study on three Mississippi Locks

2017
Read more

Coalition members defined priorities for The Falls Initiative

2017
Read more

Senators introduce bill appropriating funds for Upper Lock redevelopment

2018
Read more

Stakeholders briefed on disposition study process at third coalition meeting

2018
Read more

WRDA expedites & expands scope of disposition study

2018
Read more

Senators direct USACE to coordinate with City of Minneapolis

2019
Read more

The Falls Initiative tentatively selected for $2.8M in funding from LCCMR

2019
Read more

Fourth coalition meeting convened

2019
Read more

Upper Lock disposition study launched by US Army Corps of Engineers

2019
Read more

Friends of the Lock & Dam becomes Friends of the Falls

2020
Read more

Friends of the Falls launched Phase 2 of public engagement

2020
Read more

Friends of the Falls & NACDI form partnership

2020
Read more

Release of USACE Disposition Study draft report

2020
Read more

Water Resources Development Act of 2020

2020
Read more

Phase 3: Grounding added to engagement timeline

2021
Read more

City of Minneapolis requests Government to Government consultation

2021
Read more

Confirmation of $2.8M in LCCMR funding for early enhancements

2021
Read more

NACDI and the Friends convene Native Partnership Council and host Ki Ceremony

2021
Read more

2021 American Indian Tourism Conference

2021
Read more

Friends of the Falls and NACDI launch Phase 4 of engagement

2022
Read more

Anticipated MOU with City of Minneapolis

Up Next in 2022
Read more

Anticipated launch of Phase 5: Align

2022
Read more

Anticipated launch of Phase 6: Respond

2022
Read more

Context

Adopted Plans

There are several adopted plans that anticipated the transformation of this site and the broader riverfront. They envision restored access to the river and creating a visitor center at the Lock. Those plans include the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board’s Changing Relationships to the Power of the Falls (2014), Minneapolis Downtown Council’s Intersections: Downtown 2025 (2011); Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board’s Central Riverfront Regional Parks Master Plan (2016); Meet Minneapolis’ Destination Transformation 2030 (2016); and the National Parks Conservation Association’s Transforming the Lock (2016). The Falls Initiative was also developed in the context of Minneapolis 2040 (2019), the City’s comprehensive plan, and the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area Plan (1979, most recently updated in 2017).

Collective Impact

The Falls Initiative is one of many transformative riverfront projects within the Twin Cities and across the state. Among them, Wakan Tipi, Bdote (Ft. Snelling Revitalization), Indian Mounds Regional Park and others, are similarly concerned with elevating Native stories and Indigenous perspectives.

Each project is valuable alone, but taken together they represent a much larger gesture that will place the Twin Cities within the national conversation about Indigenous rights and truth and reconciliation.

The Falls is located within the Mississippi National River Recreation Area, our river National Park and is a feature of the 10-state Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway.