Look over the tree-framed bluff across 12,000 years of human history where native peoples and Euro-American settlers made their home in the river valley. There are many cultural differences between you, the modern-day visitor, and the native people who first inhabited the valley and depended on hunting and gathering for their subsistence. You may have arrived here using a freeway, but for many generations the river below you was the primary travel route along its 335-mile length.
Then and Now
Use your imagination as you look toward the bluffs of Burnsville and visualize the great force of nature that carved out this deep river valley. At the end of the last ice age, approximately 12,000 years ago, the great inland sea, known as Lake Agassiz, burst through its banks near present-day Brown's Valley, creating the glacial River Warren, which carved out the valley of the Minnesota and upper Mississippi Rivers. Today's Minnesota River is but a small remnant of the glacial river that formed this valley.
Today you won't see many boats on the river compared to the nineteenth century when native dugout canoes, settler keelboats and more that 100 steamboats plied the waters of the Minnesota River. Today you may see recreational boats or barges hauling grain from elevators in Savage down the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers
to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Keep your eyes open for a variety of constantly changing wildlife. No wooly mammoth, musk ox, elk, wolf or bison roam the valley as in times past. Today you may see wild turkey, geese, ducks, deer, raccoon, muskrat, beaver, coyote and fox. There are also more than 90 species of fish in the Minnesota River, although many species have suffered due to poor water quality. Wild rice once grew abundantly in the river and shallow flood plain lakes of the valley, especially in areas such as Long Meadow Lake.
Learn more about the history of the Minnesota River Valley by attending programs on this site where many cultures have lived and continue to meet.