An effort is underway in the Minnesota State House of Representatives to rename St. Croix State Park to “Walter F. Mondale State Park” and is part of an omnibus bill. This comes after an initial effort was made to rename Interstate State Park, near Taylors Falls, after former Vice President Mondale.
Efforts were made to reach out to the author of the bill, House Majority Leader Rep. Ryan Winkler, but he has not responded as of deadline. But according to a March 6 article in the St. Croix 360 online publication, the name change is being proposed to honor Mondale for his work as a Senator in passing the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, which provided protection for the St. Croix. Mondale served as Minnesota Attorney General from 1960-1964, US Senator from 1964-1976, Vice President from 1977-1981, and Ambassador to Japan from 1993-1996.
Rep. Winkler, a Democrat from Golden Valley, and Senator Karin Housley, a Republican from St. Mary’s Point, were the lead authors of the legislation to change the Interstate State Park name, according to the article. Housley recently stated that she would not support such a change without community support, however.
“We are honoring Walter Mondale’s lifelong devotion to public service and his foresight in preserving the St. Croix Scenic Riverway as a national treasure,” said Majority Leader Winkler. “Vice President Mondale has left us a legacy of rugged and pristine beauty which we will enjoy for generations to come, and so it is fitting that we recognize him in this way.”
Efforts switch from Interstate to St. Croix
The efforts, however, were thwarted as the Taylors Falls community rallied against the proposed name change. Taylors Falls City Coordinator Adam Berklund said, “It all happened really fast. Once we found out about the bill, we scheduled a meeting with the author and had our mayor, a couple business owners, and our House and Senate Representatives there. Then our mayor and another business owner went down and testified at the capital the day the bill was up for consideration. The DNR was also there to testify in opposition.”
House Majority Leader Winkler then amended the language in the bill to change the name of St. Croix State Park to Walter F. Mondale State Park with no public meeting scheduled to garner public opinion.
However, a meeting involving Hinckley officials was scheduled.
Hinckley officials meet with Winkler
Hinckley Mayor Don Zeman and Hinckley City Council member Tim Burkhardt met with Rep. Winkler on Saturday, March 30. According to Mayor Zeman, Rep. Winkler requested the meeting to discuss the proposed name change. Zeman said they discussed the name change of St. Croix State Park briefly, and the conversation then switched to the Hinckley Dam. Rep. Winkler asked Zeman and Burkhardt if they would like to see the dam saved, according to Mayor Zeman. Their answer was “yes” because “it is important to the Hinckley community”.
Zeman said he was caught off guard when Rep. Winkler told them about the name change and said he doesn’t remember Winkler asking for the city’s support. According to email sources, Rep. Winkler was not involved with any talks between the city and the DNR regarding the dam until this month.
Zeman went on to say that outside of a public meeting and without the council’s approval, he does not have the power to give that support.
“The city wants to keep the dam,” said Zeman. “But due to the proximity of the park (which is 16 miles outside of Hinckley city limits) to the city, we have no jurisdiction over the name change of the park."
Where does St. Croix State Park and DNR stand?
St. Croix State Park Manager Rick Dunkley indicated that he was not aware of a public input opportunity for the name change to St. Croix, but he was aware of public resistance to the idea when the proposal was for the name change to apply to Interstate State Park.
Dunkley noted that there are hundreds of signs at the 34,000-acre park which would need to be changed. Approximately half of the buildings are historic in the park and there are 164 elements that make St. Croix a National Historic Landmark. Several of those elements, such as the entrance portal sign, would need to be changed and that is not a simple process, he said.
“It would take us an extensive amount time and funding to replace the signs,” said Dunkley. “The entrance portals are labeled ‘St. Croix State Park’ on the rock foundation. There are many documents with our name, along with our master plan and resource plan, which were just done.”
As part of a House appropriations bill, $50,000 was appropriated from statewide park revenues for the signs and other activities necessary to rename the park. This amount is normal funding that parks receive, however.
Where is name change legislation at now?
The bill is still in committee as part of an omnibus bill. Recently elected State Representative (District 11B) Nathan Nelson (R-Hinckley) proposed amended language in the bill to not include the name change of St. Croix State Park, but his efforts were not supported in the democratic-led Environmental and Natural Resources Finance division. Nelson said, however, that he would propose the change again on the House floor when the bill is voted on, which he thought would likely be the week after Easter.
"It's disappointing to see the proposed name change for the St Croix State Park,” said Nelson. “There is so much history here, and to change the name would change the memories for so many people who have either worked, camped or enjoyed the outdoors at the largest state park in Minnesota. I am sure there is another way that we could honor Vice President Mondale's legacy that would be much less controversial. I will be working hard to preserve the name of our park."
If passed in the House, the bill will head to the Senate where Sen. Jason Rarick (R-Pine City) also said he will not support it.
“A proposal of this magnitude should not be buried in an omnibus bill, with no public testimony at all,” Rarick said. “This doesn't affect just our area, but people from around the state come to St. Croix State Park. I will not support this and will work hard to ensure it does not happen.”
Minnesota DNR Parks and Trails Director Erika Rivers, noted that nothing in statute prohibits the legislature from naming parks after people, but Minnesota statute (MS 10.49) does prohibit naming after living people. The legislature, however, can always exempt itself from statutes if they desire to, said Rivers in an email. As a state, Minnesota just has not done so since the 1960s, she added.
The statute states in 2018 Minnesota Statutes (10.49) NAMING: Laws enacted on or after July 1, 2009, must not be named for living people, and laws may not name councils, buildings, roads, or other facilities or entities after living people.
Rarick said key figures regarding the name change are Rep. Rick Hanson (DFL), Rep Melissa Hortman (DFL) and Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL). These legislators can be contacted via the following numbers and emails: Rep. Rick Hanson, 651-296-6828, email firstname.lastname@example.org; Rep Melissa Hortman, 651-296-4280, email email@example.com; and Rep Ryan Winkler, 651-296-7026, email firstname.lastname@example.org. State Representative Nathan Nelson (District 11B) can be reached at 651-296-0518 or via email at email@example.com, and Sen. Jason Rarick (District 11) can be reached at 651-296-1508 or via email to his assistant at firstname.lastname@example.org.
History of the name “St. Croix”
The name of the state park was penned because of the 21 miles of the St. Croix River to which the park sits adjacent. The St. Croix River, meaning Holy Cross in French, was likely named when Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin's 1688 map recorded a "Fort St. Croix" on the upper reaches of the river. The name "Rivière de Sainte-Croix" was applied to the river sometime in 1688 or 1689. Historians say that near the mouth of the river was a French Voyageur's grave marked with a cross. The most likely explanation was that it was named for a French trader named Sainte-Croix. The name "Rivière de Sainte-Croix" was applied to the river sometime in 1688 or 1689.