Monday, May 31, 2010

A Nine-Holer at Fort Ridgely

We continued our yearly exploration of Minnesota state parks at Fort Ridgely, where we tried out our new tent. Although this park is only 100 miles southwest of Minneapolis and was less than an hour from Madelia the whole time we were growing up, neither Nancy nor I had ever been there. What a gem!

Situated on 478 acres of rolling hills on the north bluff of the Minnesota River Valley, Fort Ridgely is home to a crucial part of state history. Here the Dakota Sioux in 1862 rose up to fight the white men who were treating them so abominably. The fort became a retreat for hundreds of settlers as the small garrison, led by a 19-year-old lieutenant, fought off four hundred Dakota. It was this uprising that resulted in the Sioux being banished from the state.

Walking at sunset around the historic area that contains the foundation of the barracks and reading the descriptive plaques explaining what happened during the 3-day battle, Nancy and I were struck by the beauty and sacredness of the wide open spaces, the wooded ravines, and the reddening sky. It seemed hard to believe that as the Dakota were engaged in a struggle for their culture here in Minnesota, the United States struggled for its survival in the Civil War.

The commissary is the only military building left standing--its strong granite walls now houses a museum run by the Minnesota Historical Society, featuring an 18-minute video that is well worth the watch. Several picnic shelters and bathrooms were built by the CCC in the 1930s.

What makes this former military site doubly remarkable is that it is now wrapped by a golf course! Nancy and I played a round, although Nancy quit after three shots because her sprained thumb hurt too much to play, but she made a good caddy for me. The 1927 nine-hole par-35 course was renovated last year, and it is a challenging beauty. The hills are so steep that from the first tee, you descend 33 stone stairs to the fairway. There are plenty of woods, ponds, and high prairie grass in which to lose balls, but with few players and no carts , the course is leisurely. In fact, at the third tee, we lounged for several minutes under the oak canopy, enjoying the big blue sky, fresh breeze, and gorgeous view.

Tick season had passed, and mosquitoes were few, but we witnessed an infestation of tent caterpillars. They dropped from the trees with a splat onto our tent, table, and toes and crawled around. If we shifted position in our camp chairs, we had to make sure we didn't squash one.

Ridgely Creek runs along the campground, gurgling at night and providing a convenient place for kids to take a dip. There are miles of hiking trails and horse trails. Near the oak-shaded picnic area, a historic cemetery holds the remains of settlers and the soldiers from the Dakota uprising.

Fort Ridgely State Park is a winner. We want to return again and again!