Our Shared Vision

Friends of the Falls was founded in February 2016 by Paul Reyelts and Mark Wilson as a 501c(3) public non-profit, seeking to transform the Upper Lock at The Falls into a community gathering place, restoring public access to the river.

Friends of the Falls, along with the City of Minneapolis, the Native American Community Development Institute, and a broad coalition of stakeholders, envisions a future site that reflects the truthful story of the Central Riverfront as Dakota land, while recognizing the national significance of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District and the Mississippi River.

Why Now?

Congress suspended navigation at the Upper Lock of St. Anthony Falls Lock in the Water Resources Development Act of 2014, closing it to commercial barge navigation in 2015. Shortly after the Congressional action, both the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board’s plan, Changing Relationship to the Power of the Falls,  and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board’s Central Riverfront Regional Park Master Plan, recommended that the site of the Upper Lock become a visitor center. The concept took root and was supported by later plans adopted by Meet Minneapolis (Destination Transformation 2030) and the National Parks Conservation Association (Transforming the Lock). Additional emphasis on the riverfront as an iconic community asset can be found in the City of Minneapolis’ Downtown Public Realm Framework Plan and Minneapolis Downtown Council’s Intersections: Downtown 2025 plan. The City approved reuse of the Upper Lock in keeping with the community’s vision in 2018 with Resolution 2018R-098 (by Johnson).

What Will It Be?

The Falls will serve as a recreational and cultural hub that at last makes our river the center of the community rather than its edge. It will contribute to civic and state identity and lead to a more connected and inclusive riverfront.

Though we have generous riverfront parkland, there are still very few moments where the river and the city come together in a way that achieves an authentic sense of connectivity. The Falls will be one of those moments. The Falls can deliver new access to the Mississippi for fishing, hiking and boating, as well as outdoor learning, events and celebrations, and peaceful enjoyment of the river.

Design and programming will shine a light on Native American history and experience, and a resilient Native culture that has produced important contemporary voices in the arts, literature, business, planning, and government.

Timeline

MPRB Adopts Riverfront Master Plan

2015
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Upper Lock Closed to Commercial Navigation

2015
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Founding of Friends of the Lock & Dam

2016
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NPS Operates Falls Visitor Center & Conducts Tours

2016
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NPCA releases 'Transforming the Lock' Idea Book

2016
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Mississippi Park Connection activates the Lock

2016
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Meet Minneapolis adopts 'Destination Transformation 2030'

2017
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City Council passes resolution to request $1.5M in state funding for Lock predesign

2017
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Friends of the Lock & Dam convenes stakeholders at first coalition meeting

2017
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MPRB passes resolution supporting predesign for Lock visitor center

2017
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Army Corps of Engineers to conduct disposition study on three Mississippi Locks

2017
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Coalition members outline guiding principles for The Falls Initiative

2017
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Senators introduce bill appropriating funds for Upper Lock redevelopment

2018
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Stakeholders briefed on disposition study process at third coalition meeting

2018
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WRDA expedites & expands scope of disposition study

2018
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Senators direct USACE to coordinate with City of Minneapolis

2019
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The Falls Initiative tentatively selected for $2.8M in funding from LCCMR

2019
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Fourth coalition meeting convened

2019
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Upper Lock disposition study launched by US Army Corps of Engineers

2019
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Friends of the Lock & Dam becomes Friends of The Falls

2020
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Friends of The Falls launches public engagement

2020
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Anticipated release of draft disposition study for Upper Lock

Up Next in 2020
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Anticipated confirmation of $2.8M in LCCMR funding for early enhancements

Up Next in 2020
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Water Resources Development Act of 2020

Up Next in 2020
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Anticipated MOU with City of Minneapolis

Up Next in 2021
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The Site

St. Anthony Falls is the cradle of a great Indigenous society, which thrived for hundreds of generations. The Dakota and other Native American communities sanctified the Falls as one of two sacred Indigenous sites on the Upper Mississippi.

Spirit Island was one of three islands that existed downstream of the Falls. It held great significance to the Dakota people, but white settlers quarried the island for limestone to provide building materials for many of the mills in the area. The narrow jetty south of the Upper Lock is all that remains of Spirit Island today.

Spirit Island, 1899

Following European settlement, St. Anthony Falls became the birthplace of Minneapolis and foundation for the region at large.

The Falls powered the massive sawmills that produced construction lumber used to build the city, as well as the first hydro-electric power station in the U.S. The Falls district was home to the world’s two largest flour companies for decades, and the first permanent crossing across the entire width of the Mississippi was built just above the Falls, on the current alignment of the Father Louis Hennepin Avenue Bridge.

St. Anthony Falls is the only major waterfall on the Mississippi River, which today thunders down a 49-foot drop on a concrete spillway at the toe of the iconic Stone Arch Bridge. The Federal Government owns the St. Anthony Falls Lock, which is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Congress suspended commercial navigation at the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock in 2015 in response to declining barge traffic and invasive species.

The Central & Upper Riverfront

The Falls Initiative is one of many transformative riverfront projects within the Twin Cities and across the state. Each project is valuable alone, but taken together they represent a much larger gesture that will place the Mississippi River firmly at the center of the Minnesota experience.

Upriver, city redevelopment projects are underway at Upper Harbor Terminal and the Grain Belt district. The Minneapolis Park Foundation’s signature RiverFirst projects are underway at 26th Avenue North, Halls Island, and Water Works Park. MNDOT is undertaking crucial work to care for the Stone Arch Bridge, which lands at the Falls and continues on as a walking and biking path through Water Works Park. The emergence in the last couple years of a new water taxi service, and the National Park Service’s Paddle Share kayak rental (now available at numerous sites between Coon Rapids Dam in the north, to Boom Island at the Central Riverfront) sparks the imagination about the future vibrancy of water trails and public docks on the Upper River.

A Jewel on the Great River Road

The Falls will be a destination feature of the 10-state Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway. It will draw visitors to discover our city, state, and region at an iconic downtown waterfront location with both cultural and scenic richness. The facility will be a gateway to the Mississippi National River Recreation Area, our river National Park.