Oheyawahe, a site in Mendota Heights on the National Register of Historic Places, overlooks the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Considered sacred by Dakota people, the name Oheyawahe can be translated as, “A sacred place much visited; the place where people go for burials.” The area was inhabited by the Dakota and other Native Americans long before the establishment of Fort Snelling in 1820, and continues to be an important place for the Dakota community and other Indigenous people.
After the land of Pilot Knob hill was offered for sale by the U.S. government in the 1800s, it was purchased by a succession of private owners. In 1848 the site was proposed as the site of the Minnesota territorial capital due to its strategic location and stunning views. In 2002, when developers announced plans to build 157 town homes on the north slope, Native Americans, local residents, historians, archaeologists, faith communities and environmental groups united to preserve the land as a public natural area.
“Our community recognized that a site of this cultural and historic importance should be preserved and accessible to the public rather than be in private hands, greeting visitors with a ‘No Trespassing’ sign,” said Gail Lewellan, a Mendota Heights resident and chair of the Oheyawahe Task Force.
The City of Mendota Heights acquired 8.2 acres of the land in 2006, then acquired a contiguous 14.4-acre parcel in 2008. An additional one-acre residential parcel was acquired in 2020, with a goal of preserving the entirety of this historic site.
In May 2023, Governor Tim Walz approved a capital investment funding allocation of $1.85 million to the City of Mendota Heights for improvements at Oheyawahe. A primary goal of this project is to provide safe visitor access and bring the site in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Improvements will enhance interpretation and understanding of the unique character of the site.
“Thousands of school children on field trips – and adults learning about sacred sites – visit this area,” said Lewellan. “The upcoming improvements will enhance their understanding of its rich stories and provide a safer and more welcoming learning environment. Indigenous advisors are working with us to ensure appropriate management.”
- Entry Area/Bus Drop-off with ADA-accessible path, entrance sign, landscaping and interpretive signage.
- ADA-accessible gathering area, providing a multi-purpose plaza as the primary visitor contact site for visitors; adding parking, a drinking fountain, bicycle parking, restroom facilities, and a bio-infiltration water management feature.
- Evaluation of an existing structure for re-purposing as an outdoor educational gathering facility.
- Trail improvements, in cooperation with Dakota County, to connect to the existing MN River Regional Greenway Big Rivers Trail.
- Historical area interpretive and other signage
- Natural resource restoration and enhancement.
For more information on the historic Oheyawahe site and updates on the project, visit MendotaHeightsMN.gov/Oheyawahe.