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Editorial: A place to admire, remember and share

In early May, the Evelyn Sweasy Charitable Fund contributed more than $260,000 toward the restoration of the Barn Bluff Trail Head. The generous contribution is not the first time philanthropy has intervened to ensure Barn Bluff's public status.

Early attempts to turn the bluff into a park stalled in the 1870s, but the issue was revisited once quarrying activity ceased in 1908. Two years later, a group of landowners donated their holdings to the city, and James Lawther, a local businessman and philanthropist, contributed an additional $2,000. By 1911, the city held 48 acres of the bluff and turned it into a public park.

Wealthy citizens alone did not create the Barn Bluff we know today. Charles C. Webster led an all-volunteer effort to create a trail up the bluff in 1889. Webster's effort involved the entire community — white- and blue-collar volunteers worked side by side. The Red Wing Civic League helped maintain the trail, affectionately called "Webster's Way" until the late 1920s.

In 1929, the local Kiwanis Club organized an effort to create the Citizen's Memorial Stairway, a more intensive walkway to the bluff's summit. For nearly 30 years, that stairway sat on the east end of Main Street, until the construction of the Eisenhower Bridge necessitated its removal.

The steps that could be salvaged were saved, and were incorporated into the 1976 and 1982 East and Central Kiwanis Stairways, respectively. Today, you can see some of the original 1929 stairs alongside the newer stairs.

Of course, the bridge also led to the removal of the natural Native American profile on the western side of the bluff, in a vivid example of Mdewakanton Dakota priorities being overlooked for the sake of progress.

Red Wing residents will continue to enjoy Barn Bluff for generations to come, as they should. There is an admirable tradition of volunteerism, dedication to community and local camaraderie associated with the landmark. The recent donation is another example of that tradition, and it is something residents can take pride in.

Barn Bluff has meant a great deal to Red Wing for many years. However, He-Mni-Can's relationship with the Mdewakanton Dakota extends far longer. For non-Native American residents, that fact is not something to apologize about, but something to acknowledge. Every time you view a Lake Pepin sunset or watch Mississippi boat traffic from overlooks, you are visiting a sacred Dakota place, as well as a local landmark.

He-Mni-Can represents Red Wing in a way nothing else can. Other towns can rightfully claim the Mississippi River or the rolling topography of the driftless region as part of their identity. But not Barn Bluff. The towering icon is indisputably local, and something we all share — past, present and future.