The state bonding bill signed by Gov. Mark Dayton this week directs $3 million to a nature sanctuary on a once-polluted industrial site on the fringe of downtown St. Paul for building a visitor center that embraces the area’s history as a holy site for the Dakota people.
Now it’s up to the people who helped create the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary to raise another $3.7 million before the Wakan Tipi Center becomes a reality.
Melanie Kleiss, director of the Lower Phalen Creek Project, which helped create the park, said that should take another year and a half.
“Now that we have bonding, we are going to really be able to kick it into a higher gear,” Kleiss said.
The fundraising target includes $1 million to help pay for center operations.
The proposed interpretive center was also awarded a two-year, $115,000 community innovation grant from the Bush Foundation for outreach to create strong partnerships with Minnesota’s Dakota community.
The 27-acre Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, which opened in 2005, lies between St. Paul’s Lowertown and Dayton’s Bluff neighborhoods. Many miles of recreational trails converge there.
The somewhat overlooked park has attracted busloads of schoolkids — most of them fifth-graders for whom the trip is part of a social studies curriculum — for several years.
The Wakan Tipi Center will highlight the centuries of significance of the area to Native Americans and attract new audiences, Kleiss said.
The center’s name comes from the nearby Wakan Tipi (House of the Spirits), a cave that is sacred to the Dakota people. Wall drawings of animals inside the cave were made by indigenous people who lived in the area hundreds of years ago.
The Trust for Public Land helped buy the land for the sanctuary, which was later cleaned up by volunteers and turned over to the city for a park.