The National Park Service will close public access on Tuesday to a 27-acre site between Fort Snelling and Minnehaha Park so it can tear down a dozen dilapidated buildings and restore the land to its natural condition. The area contains Coldwater Spring, where soldiers camped while they were building Fort Snelling in the 1820s. Some American Indians say the area is spiritually important to them.

What's happening?

The former U.S. Bureau of Mines owned the property and conducted research there on mineral extraction and mine safety between 1959 and 1996. Since then, the abandoned buildings have been ransacked and vandalized and the site littered with graffiti, broken glass, rusting debris and trash.

The Park Service took ownership of the land in January 2010 with plans to incorporate the site into the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. It hired a contractor to remove the buildings and most of the crumbling roads on the site.

How long will it take?

Demolition will continue through the winter. Next spring, landscape architects will regrade the land to its natural slope, reintroduce native grasses and plants, and "daylight" the spring so that it flows naturally across the land instead of through a culvert. Park Service officials expect most of the work to be done by the end of next summer and the site reopened in September 2012.

Any tours in the meantime?

Rangers will lead free hour-long tours of the site at 2:30 p.m. on selected Saturdays. Dates so far: Nov. 12 and 19, Dec. 3 and 17, Jan. 7 and 21, Feb. 4 and 18 and March 3, 17 and 31.

What's the long-term plan?

The site, to be called the Coldwater Unit of the Mississippi recreation area, once again will be dominated by oak trees and prairie grasses. Trails will meander through the area, including the spring, reservoir and creek. The site will contain signs interpreting the area's cultural, ecological and historical importance. Construction updates and general information will be posted at

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388