New Rodents at the U: Beavers, not Gophers

Beavers invade Minneapolis park near University of Minnesota!

That’s the gist of my favorite, undated newspaper clip from Victor Gallant’s scrapbook: Minneapolis Parks, 1923-1949. The article had to be from the late 1940s, I’ll tell you why in a moment.

Here’s the story. Three beavers have moved into the east river flats below the U. Need proof? They’ve been felling cottonwood trees along the river bank. Two dozen of them! (Cottonwoods are nobody’s favorite tree, in fact the park board once considered banning the planting of them in the city, but they do spring up on river banks and provide greenery and shade that is flood tolerant.)

The newspaper reports that the beavers are living under a sunken houseboat along the river bank. Park superintendent Charles Doell asks the game warden to remove the beavers so they don’t cut down more trees. (Seems to me it would have been smarter to remove the sunken houseboat to eliminate the avant garde urban beaver habitat.) But Dr. W. J. Breckenridge of the University’s Museum of Natural History points out the advantages of having a living natural history exhibit virtually on campus. Doell relents and instead of evicting Goldy’s cousins, he has a couple loads of poplar trees delivered to the riverbank so the beavers have something to eat other than living cottonwoods. It is believed that the beavers immigrated from known colonies on the Mississippi River at Dayton and Anoka. (Did they come over the falls or through the mill races?)

Big Yellow Taxi

That’s the first and last I’ve heard of beavers in Minneapolis. I suspect they didn’t stay long. I’m pretty sure that the article appeared between 1945 and 1949. It had to be after Doell became Superintendent in 1945 and before Gallant quit keeping the scrapbook in 1949. But I didn’t need to know that was the end of Gallant’s newspaper clipping to figure out that date, because it was in 1949 that the University and park board signed a ten-year agreement for the U to use the river flats as a parking lot. I’m guessing that the beavers wouldn’t have settled next to a busy parking lot. And if they had, everyone would have been happy to evict them if their gnawing was endangering cars instead of just trees. Nobody wants a cottonwood in their back seat, even if its young.

The U’s lease of the parking lot kept being extended beyond the original ten-year term. The park board didn’t take back the land for a park until 1976! Some cottonwood trees only live about as long as that lease lasted.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Do you know the official name of the park where the rodents lived for a while? It rhymes with beavers.

In 1894 the park board named the east river flats “Cheever’s Landing,” after the man who operated a ferry across the river there. I don’t believe the name ever has been changed officially.

And speaking of wildlife and the James Ford Bell Musuem of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, the coolest sculpture in the city is the wolf pack attacking a moose near the entrance to that museum. Worth a visit. Don’t jump when you see them.

A partial view of the sculpture by Ian Dudley outside the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota (Photo: Tara C. Patty)

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

2 comments so far

  1. […] found an old post about visiting the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History on the Minneapolis campus of the […]

  2. […] my daughter there several times in this century. A couple of years ago I included in this blog  a photo of wolves attacking a moose outside the […]

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