River Gorge Stewards — South Minneapolis & St. Paul

A natural oasis of limestone bluffs, natural springs, oak savanna and hardwood forests, the Mississippi River Gorge is a national treasure in our midst. Carved out by a retreating Saint Anthony Falls over the course of 10,000 years, the River Gorge spans from roughly downtown Minneapolis to just west of downtown St. Paul, and is the only river gorge along the length of the entire Mississippi River.

Many of us treasure the gorge as a place to hike and enjoy nature. (Home to over 170 species, it's a birdwatching favorite.) We also value the river that flows through it as both a source of drinking water and local pride. Today, however, the river gorge is threatened by invading species, litter and careless use.

River Gorge Stewards work to protect and restore this defining Twin Cities feature. If you're ready to join the Gorge Stewards email list, highlighting upcoming River Gorge volunteer and educational events, contact our volunteer coordinator at volunteer@fmr.org, 651-222-2193 x27. Or, read on to learn more.

A River Gorge Steward removes invasive European buckthorn from the oak savanna restoration site.

What Gorge Stewards do

The primary way people become River Gorge Stewards is by participating in one or more Gorge Stewards volunteer or educational events. Most are 2-3 hours long and take place weekday evenings or Saturday mornings. 

Gorge Stewards events include:
* Buckthorn busts and other invasive species removals
* Native plantings
* Litter cleanups
* Interpretive walks
* And other river-related educational events

There is also a select Gorge Leadership Team of 12 volunteers who receive higher-level training and complete 25+ volunteer hours annually. The team is invite-only. As spots open up (which isn't often), Gorge Stewards who volunteered or participated in the most events during the previous season are invited to join. To express interest, contact Sophie Downey at sdowney@fmr.org, 651-222-2193 x27

Who can be a Gorge Steward

Anyone who participates in a Gorge Stewards event

  • The majority are individuals and families who want to make a difference and give back to the river they love. 
  • Roughly half come from neighborhoods along the river Gorge in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and half from throughout the Twin Cities and the larger metro area.
  • Some college students, Master Naturalists and others complete service-hours through Gorge Stewards events. (Students with more than 4 hours to complete should review FMR's college service basics.) 
  • Occasionally, we are able to work with larger groups — companies, organizations, churches, classes, etc. But if you're with a group that needs to set your own date and time, an outing with FMR's storm drain stenciling program is likely the best fit. If this isn't what you had in mind, contact Sophie Downey at sdowney@fmr.org, 651-222-2193 x27 and we'll see if we've got a current project need that would be a better fit.

Prairie meadow in Crosby Park

Where Gorge Stewards activities take place

Hikes, talks and other educational Gorge Stewards activities take place throughout the Twin Cities metro area. However, Gorge Stewards volunteer events take place at specially selected locations. For each, we have developed a long-term restoration plan and are committed to its long-term ecological health. Even if you only have time to participate in one volunteer event, your contribution will continue to matter. 

  • Oak savanna, near East 36th Street & West River Parkway, Minneapolis
    This area includes the highest quality plant communities remaining in the River Gorge, including several acres of mesic oak savanna, one of the rarest native plant communities in Minnesota, and oak woodland. While this type of habitat was once widespread throughout the Upper Midwest, it has all but disappeared. However, thanks to hundreds of dedicated volunteers, this River Gorge gem is being restored to its natural splendor, effectively doubling the amount of mesic oak savanna in the metro area.
  • Crosby Farm Natural Area, St. Paul
    A large floodplain prairie restoration, FMR-installed raingardens and green infrastructure helping clean polluted runoff before it enters the river while providing much-needed wildlife habitat. Crosby Farm is roughly the end of the Gorge, and is nestled at the confluence of the Mississippi & Minnesota rivers a couple miles west of downtown St. Paul and just across from Fort Snelling. 
  • Riverside Park on the west-bank bluffs of the Mississippi River just north of I-94, Minneapolis
    At first glance, Riverside Park appears to be a quiet, typical neighborhood park. Given a closer look, though, the park reveals complex layers of historical and natural interest. The 40-acre park is actually the first public park in the city. It is located on two levels, with the steep, wooded river bluff and its WPA-era stone stairs and walls separating the upper and lower areas. Gorge Stewards have been restoring sections to native prairie and woodland.
  • The maple-basswood forest at East 44th Street and West River Parkway, Minneapolis
    Home to an array of woodland plants, this maple-basswood forest is one of few places in the city where people can experience the big woods. This forest plant community provides wildlife habitat, erosion control, and creates organic matter in the soil, but is also threatened by the spread of invasive plant species and suffers from the disturbances that accompany its use by an urban population. This is one of our primary Earth Day cleanup sites.
  • The sand flats near Lake Street and West River Parkway, Minneapolis
    Part of this area consists of large sandy beaches offering wonderful river-edge viewing. These beaches are not natural; they are made of sand dredged from the river and deposited by workers to improve navigation. However, there are native prairie plants in and near the beach which volunteers help to maintain. Volunteers also work in the surrounding floodplain forest.

Detailed directions and just-for-volunteers map links to event meeting spots are emailed to event registrants as part of their confirmation and reminder emails.

Join the Gorge Stewards email list!

  • If you'd like to be added to the Gorge Stewards email list (typically 2-4 messages a year), contact Sophie Downey at sdowney@fmr.org, 651-222-2193 x27.
  • If you'd like to receive notice of all FMR events and news, sign up for our twice-monthly e-newsletter Mississippi Messages.
  • To check out current event offerings, please see the FMR events calendar.
  • Note: Everyone who attends a Gorge Stewards event and provides an email address is automatically added to both the Gorge Stewards and Mississippi Messages e-mail list. We always provide an easy unsubscribe option and addresses are never shared without consent.
Volunteers pose on the riverbank at the sand flats

Upcoming Events

Sunday, September 17 OR October 8, 2023 - 1:00pm to 3:00pm
Wellstone Center, St. Paul
Saturday, October 14, 2023 - 9:00am to 12:00pm
3M's oak woodlands, Cottage Grove
Saturday, October 28, 2023 - 9:00am to 12:00pm
Pine Bend Bluffs Natural Area at the Flint Hills Resources property
Ole Olson prairie, Mississippi River, Minneapolis skyline

Celebrate 30 years of FMR!

For our 30th anniversary, our wish is for you to join us in restoring, protecting and enhancing the Mississippi River.