Shakopee city officials want to develop a dynamic cultural corridor, bounded by the Minnesota River and bustling Hwy. 101, that draws visitors back in time to historic sites important to both the area’s Native inhabitants and the Europeans who settled there.
“We have one of the most historically relevant areas in the state and we really aren’t showcasing it,” said City Administrator Bill Reynolds. “This history is being lost.”
The plans are still conceptual, Reynolds said, with no set timeline or funding source. Shakopee has set aside money from a grant to study the idea.
But thanks to a recent track record of cooperation between the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) and the city, things are moving forward. Gov. Tim Walz’s bonding bill includes nearly $12 million toward stabilizing the riverbank, often subject to flooding and erosion.
The significant but little-known stretch of land, resting on either side of Memorial Park, is where the Dakota and settlers once traded goods, intermarried and even collaborated on the first Dakota dictionary. Today it includes remnants of settlers’ cabins and grave sites, Indian burial mounds dating back millennia, the former site of a Dakota village and the Landing, a collection of pioneer-era structures.
City officials are proposing a 2½-mile trail through the area, beginning at the western edge of downtown and ending at the Landing. It would make a loop as it follows the river and link with an existing riverfront trail operated by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Getting the project to this early stage has required collaboration with several partners, including the city, Scott County, the SMSC and the Three Rivers Park District, as well as the DNR. Even a decade ago, officials said, such an undertaking wouldn’t have been possible.
The city will lead the project, with the tribe taking on a role as cultural consultant, said Nicole Hendrickson, SMSC tribal planner.
“It will educate the public on the founding of Shakopee,” Hendrickson said. “What people should know is that there was actually a very good, mutually beneficial, reciprocal relationship between Natives and non-Natives.”
But the project faces challenges. One is the riverbank, about 40 feet of which has disappeared in the past half-century. “If we don’t stabilize the banks, the river’s going to do what it does,” Reynolds said. “Absent [stabilization], we really can’t invest a lot of money.”
And local veterans groups recently objected to the master plan’s relocation of a Cobra helicopter and veterans monument in adjacent Memorial Park. The park plan proposes moving the chopper and flagpole to Quarry Lake Park, an 111-acre park in the East Shakopee industrial area.
Confusion abounded in late January, when about 75 people showed up for a meeting at the American Legion about relocating the chopper. City officials ended up canceling the meeting.
“There has been some clarity [since then], but there’s a lot of tension,” said Bob Zondlo, first vice commander at Legion Post 2. “Change is never easy.”
City officials created a committee with VFW and Legion members to discuss the plans, Reynolds said. He added that nothing will be moved without the veterans’ approval.
Two of the area’s important sites — burial mounds by Memorial Park and the Dakota village called Tinta-otonwe — are recognized in Minnesota’s archaeological record, Hendrickson said.
Though Native people had been present in the area for millennia, Chief Sakpe II’s village was first observed by settlers in the 1820s. Sakpe II, for whom Shakopee was named, signed several treaties that were later broken by the U.S. government, paving the way for the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
Drawn to the springs nearby, Europeans settled there in the 1840s and traded items like cloth for furs and meat, Hendrickson said. Trader Oliver Faribault married a Native woman, and the Rev. Samuel Pond arrived to do missionary work among the Dakota. He compiled the first dictionary of the Dakota language.
The corridor would seek to highlight this story and others, Reynolds said, through the use of “augmented reality,” in addition to conventional signage. Smartphones would enable visitors to scan QR codes at stations along the corridor, to see what the area looked like in the past and view re-enacted scenes.
The trail would cater to the growing interest in historical tourism while giving residents a stronger sense of place, Reynolds said.
“The city of Shakopee wants to embrace its history, and its history is not just one culture or one people,” he said.