Riding Horses Along Tatanka Bluffs
by Dave Simpkins
If you stop long enough between the granite rocks and cedar trees of the Minnesota River Valley near Redwood Falls you just might hear the sounds of four centuries of horse hooves echoing off the bluffs.
The nomadic Dakota people brought horses into this valley some four hundred years ago to carry their belongings, hunt for buffalo and chase off enemies.
A little less than 200 years ago trappers and traders road horses into the valley to trade for beaver pelts and explore the newly purchased Louisanna Purchase.
The Dakota used horses to fight the settlement of their land during the Dakota War of 1862.
Once the treaties were signed European settlers used horses to bring their belongings into the valley and ploy the land.
“The horse has been a big part of this country for many generations,” said Loren Kaardal of the Green Corridor Association and Tatanka Bluffs Corridor project.
“What we have along the Minnesota River is a section of land that is pretty much the same it was centuries ago. The steep bluffs and annual flooding has kept development away. This gives us a wonderful opportunity to create a conservations recreational area with horse, biking and hiking along with fishing, canoeing, camping and birding.”
Kaardal was part of a horse trail demonstration day at the 180-acre Whispering Ridge Aquatic Management Area co-sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Trails Riders Association and Tatanka Bluffs.
Kaardal worked to have Whispering Ridge purchased by the DNR for public use. While the land has been used for horse back riding, the DNR has limited recreational use of the land since it is in an aquatic program.
Dennis Frederickson, former State Senator and Southern Regional Director for the DNR said his office sees “tremendous potential” for Whispering Ridge to part of a much larger mulit-use recreation area reaching from as far as New Ulm to Granite Falls.
“We must first look to what needs to be protected here, come up with a plan and then provide a recreational area that fits the landscape,” said Frederickson.
Frederickson said there will have to be some creative rewriting of the rules but he was confident that could happen.
Courtland Nelson, Director of the Parks and Trails Division of the DNR agreed.
“This is a beautiful piece of land in a beautiful and historic part of the state. If we do it right, we can have something that preserves the natural beauty, shares the story, gives people a place to recreate as well as help the local economy,” said Nelson.
“While it will take some time, I believe it can be done,” added Nelson.
He also mentioned the horse trail pass has raised nearly a half a million dollars for trail development.
The corridor includes Lac qui Parle, Upper Souix Agency, Fort Ridgley and Flandrau state parks as well as state historic sites of the Lac qui Parle Mission, Birch Coulee Battlefield, Historic Fort Ridgely, Lower Souix Agency and the Harken Store.
Marv and Pat Breitkreutz hosted the event. They farm nearby and have been riding the valley for 30 years. Marv is also the incoming president of the Trail Riders Association.
“We live here and we know just how beautiful it is to ride these beautiful bluffs,” said Breitkreutz. “It is also a good place to hunt and fish and would be a good place for other kinds of trails.
Annie Teffer of Amigo Saddle Club remembers growing up on a farm, her parents and neighbors would load up 10 horses in a grain truck unloading them against a hill. Then they would clean it out, lay straw down and all the children would sleep in the truck.
“Trail riding is a family friendly activity where people can bond in the outdoors,” said Teffer.
Winona Goodthunder of the Sunktanka Saddle Club agreed saying riding along the river and through the cedar forest is a relaxing time for her. Her saddle club honors their tribal traditions by speaking Dakota as they ride.
Mark Larson, Director At Large with the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota said this corridor project would be a good priority project for the Council.
“This is a great area well worth developing into a multi-use recreational area for a wide variety of people to use,” said Larson.
The Parks & Trails Council is a non-profit organization that raises money to acquire land for parks and trails. They have been instrumental in expanding many state parks and nearly all of the state bike trails.
“We’re just glad the DNR and others see the potential of this area and want to build on it,” concluded Kaardal. “This is just the beginning of a long process that will be worthwhile for everyone.”