Nokomis, Hiawatha and Minnehaha


From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland,
From the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
Ye who love the haunts of Nature,
Love the sunshine of the meadow,
Love the shadow of the forest,
Love the wind among the branches,
And the rain-shower and the snow-storm,
And the rushing of great rivers
Listen to these wild traditions,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We have three hopes and dreams for Nokomis (the mother of Hiawatha), Hiawatha (the brave warrior) and Minnehaha (his beloved).

First, we hope the Park Board will remove the dams in Minnehaha Creek that are backing up 4 to 5 feet of water in Lake Nokomis and Lake Hiawatha. They are causing sinkholes as well as the flooding of basements, and they have raised the level of the lakes by 4 to 5 feet. The dams were built in 1964 to back up enough water so when it was released it could provide a marvelous display for President Johnson when he visited Minnehaha Falls. The Park Board disputes this. I have asked them to show me evidence of when the dams were built. There is a plaque somewhere in South Minneapolis that says when President Johnson came to see Minnehaha Falls they released water from fire hydrants to increase the flow over the falls. Why would they need to put up a plaque to say something like that, unless people in South Minneapolis believed something quite different?

No one I have asked in the two years that I’ve written about this has given me a good reason for keeping the dams.

The city engineer in charge of water, Katrina Kessler, says the dam at the outlet of Lake Hiawatha is not the control point for the Lake Hiawatha water level. She says there are water lines, gas lines and sanitary sewer lines that are higher than the dam. I don’t think that’s accurate. The water backed up at the dam is 812 feet above sea level. The highest level of pipes crossing is 810. The dam goes down to a depth of 807 at the base. So, it seems to me, there’s a 5-foot wall holding back the exit of Lake Hiawatha down Minnehaha Creek. Also, everywhere else that I’ve seen gas lines, they’ve been above water levels, so it seems probable that the creek originally ran under those utility pipes. Every time the city plows the streets and puts down sand, the sand washes down the storm sewers and much of it is deposited in Lake Hiawatha and Minnehaha Creek. I think if we took down the dam at 27th Avenue and shoveled the sand out from around the pipes, then the creek would flow under the pipes and that would lower the water level of Lake Hiawatha by 4 to 5 feet.

I know Lake Hiawatha has risen 5 feet since I played around it while I was growing up on 42nd Street and 29th Avenue. The storm sewer that empties into Lake Hiawatha used to be open and empty when there wasn’t a storm. Now the entrance is flooded and that means the water has risen 5 feet since the 1950s.

The dam blocking the outlet from Lake Nokomis has probably caused Lake Nokomis to back up 4 or 5 feet as well.

Second, I hope the Park Board will stop using dangerous chemicals for treating weeds on Hiawatha Golf Course. According to the Park Board, every two weeks, they are using “Clearscape ETQ (Tuebeconazole), a systemic fungicide alternated with Velista (Penthiopryrad), another systemic fungicide. Those are applied with Dyad ETQ (Chlorothalonil), a contact fungicide. During July and August a few applications of Chipco Signature Xtra Stressgard (Aluminum tris) are also used.”

Tebuconazole is a “possible carcinogen” according to the EPA. It is banned in Europe.

Penthiopryrad is toxic to fish.

Chlorothalonil is a Group B2 probable human carcinogen, based on observations of cancers and tumors of the kidneys and forestomachs in laboratory animals.

Instead of spending all that money buying poisonous chemicals, why don’t we hire a couple of people to pull weeds? We would save the environment and create jobs.

Third, I hope that the Park Board will cut the green fees at city golf courses by 50%. Right now it costs $26 to play 18 holes. That should be $13 for city residents and $9 for seniors. We pay property taxes to maintain the golf courses, we should get something back in return. Juniors (under 18) pay $10 now. They should pay $5 and play free on Thursday afternoons. There should be free starter club rentals for new players. Cutting rates would increase play and probably make more money, and it would give people in South Minneapolis one last chance to play a legendary golf course.

There are only five years left before the Paleo-Environmentalists on the Park Board will turn Hiawatha into a swamp. That will end golf in South Minneapolis. South Minneapolis African-American kids will no longer be able to take pride in Hiawatha Golf Course for being home to the very first African-American national golf tournament in America. Mexican-American kids may never hear about Nancy Lopez and Lee Trevino.

Just before dawn when the sky is a rosy pink
The birds are asleep. No one’s yet awake
An old man and his buddies tee off in the twilight
And look for their golf balls the moment before dawn.
Golf Hi-watha. Golf Hi-watha
You’ll come golf Hi-watha with me
They sang as they banged their balls along the fairway
You’ll come golf Hi-watha with me
Now his friends are all gone
They died a long time ago
But he still keeps them close by his side
They keep his score and measure his abilities
And he keeps the promise of youth still alive
Golf Hi-watha. Golf Hi-watha
You’ll come golf Hi-watha with me
As they sang as they banged their balls along the fairway
You’ll come golf Hi-watha with me

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