Coldwater Spring Restoration

Winter scene at Coldwater Spring House

Directions (5601 Minnehaha Park Drive South, Minneapolis)

Visit Coldwater Spring

Restoring an Urban National Park

Buildings from the former 'Bureau of Mines' site were demolished and the Coldwater Spring was re-opened to the public in 2012. The National Park Service, partners and volunteers have been working since to restore the prairie, oak savanna and wetlands surrounding the historic spring house and reservoir.

A large black and yellow butterfly feeds on lavender flowers.
A Canadian Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on blooming wild bergamot at Coldwater Spring

Monarch caterpillars chomp on the 4 milkweed species planted and seeded (Coldwater Spring Plant List (PDF; 155kb). Amphibians and reptiles, like tiger salamanders and snapping turtles, have been seen feasting on invertebrates in the newly restored wetlands. Eastern bluebirds stop over during spring and fall migration to fill up on insects and water. Ospreys dive-bomb fish living in the springhouse reservoir. Red fox and coyotes prey on small mammals that burrow in the restored prairie. Wildlife, insects, native fish and migrating birds are all signs of a healthier ecosystem at Coldwater Spring.

An aerial map showing progress of plantings at Coldwater Spring.
One field season restoring an urban National Park: Maps of plant removal and plantings at Coldwater Spring (PDF; 513 KB)

Field crews and volunteers are hard at work year-round removing invasive plants, like garlic mustard and buckthorn, and planting native species to restore key areas of habitat. Restoration maps (PDF 519 KB) give a closer look at the exciting areas of restoration at Coldwater Spring.

A crowd of people gather amidst trees.
Volunteers gather at Coldwater Spring for National Public Lands Day.

A Park in Progress

Volunteer commitment is vital to the long term success of Coldwater Spring's restoration goals. Find out how to donate your time and volunteer to help make Coldwater Spring a healthy and resilient natural resource.

Generalized image of a Gravity Spring with labels. Impervious layer below the pervious layer creates a catchment area that flows downhill to the spring, or other water bodies.
Gravity Spring

MN Department of Health

Coldwater Spring Water Quality


Based on previous water quality tests and the nature of an open unprotected water source, the National Park Service (NPS) recommends not drinking water from Coldwater Spring. No future testing is planned and no signage will be posted.

Is the water at Coldwater Spring potable/drinkable?

Water from Coldwater Spring is not safe to drink. Coldwater Spring can be classified as a “Gravity Spring” which is “formed by water soaking into the ground until the water encounters a confining layer that will not let the water seep further down (Gravity Spring image).”

The water quality of Coldwater Spring is impacted by many variables. As seen in the Gravity Spring image, the spring is fed from an area known as the "recharge" area. Contaminated water runoff from the surrounding landscape and land uses enters this area and filters through the pervious rock. The pervious rock in this case is fractures in the limestone bedrock that do not act as an effective filter or remove all of the contaminants. Water runoff and seepage also enters the spring directly due to the deterioration of the structures. These sources can be entirely unfiltered and potentially carry harmful bacteria and chemicals. Since the spring is an open unprotected structure, all animal and human interactions also represent potential sources of contamination.

2005 Coldwater Spring Water Quality Assessment

In 2005, the Minnesota Department of Health conducted an on-site water quality assessment of the Coldwater Spring water supply. The assessment noted that “the spring and reservoir were open and unprotected subjecting the water to environmental contamination from the immediate surroundings, compromising the integrity of the water.” Water samples were taken and the test results were “positive for bacteriological contamination of total coliform indicating organisms but absent of E. Coli… Therefore the water supply would be deemed as of unsatisfactory sanitary quality and unfit for human consumption.” Coliform bacteria indicate the possible presence of disease-causing organisms.

MN Dept of Health has Halted Testing of Springs

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, “periodic testing of springs for bacteria and nitrate has been proven to be generally ineffective in assuring a sanitary water supply because of rapid fluctuations in water quality and because many other possible contaminants may be present in spring water.” The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) routinely sampled springs for coliform bacteria and nitrate-nitrogen in the 1960’s and 1970’s but has since stopped due to results indicating that 85 to 90 percent of the sampled springs were contaminated with coliform bacteria or nitrate at one or more times.

Last updated: September 23, 2021

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

111 E. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 105
Saint Paul, MN 55101

Phone:

(651) 293-0200
This is the general phone line at the Mississippi River Visitor Center. Please leave a voicemail if we miss your call and expect a return call within 1 day, often sooner.

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