Our Vision is nothing less than a clean and healthy Lake Hiawatha supportive of a thriving ecosystem and community

Our Mission is to revive the health of Lake Hiawatha
by inspiring policy action and fostering community ownership

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Friends of Lake Hiawatha

is dedicated to improving the quality of Lake Hiawatha through community engagement, educational outreach, and good governance through effective partnerships with other organizations and public officials.

Lake Hiawatha History

Prior to 1854, the land that encompasses present day Lake Hiawatha, the Chain of Lakes, and the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, was the spiritual center and home of the Dakota Sioux tribe. The community settled on the shores of Bde Maka Ska (formerly known as Lake Calhoun) and actively foraged, farmed, and hunted for survival. Plant species that they foraged include: blueberries, wild spikenard, wild turnips, spatterdock root, water lily, wild rice, acorns, and bittersweet vine.

They farmed very selectively using a no till, no drill method. Natural land cover was comprised of oak, elm, basswood, ash, and maple trees with oak openings and barrens. With European and French Canadian expansion into Minnesota the Dakota became involved in the fur trade, primarily harvesting muskrat and beaver pelts.

In 1854, the land was surveyed by the Federal Bureau of Land Management and the names of European landowners appear on the parcels adjacent to the Lake. The City of Minneapolis was established in 1856 and Minnesota became a State on May 11, 1858. The Dakota War took place in 1862 and in 1863 an act of the United States Congress expelled the Dakota from Minnesota. They were relocated in Nebraska and South Dakota.

By 1867, Minneapolis achieved final incorporation. As the City developed so did the need for land planning and a board of 12 park commissioners was appointed in 1883. Horace Cleveland, a landscape architect, is hired and proposes a vast park system that encompasses the Chain of Lakes including Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River. Lakes Calhoun, Harriet, and Isles are named. Present day Lakes Hiawatha and Nokomis were renamed from Rice Lake and Mother Lake. The name Hiawatha is a reference to the great Iroquois chief immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha”.

Although the shoreline of Lake Hiawatha has been altered over time Cleveland’s vision of a series of open green spaces connecting the urban areas of Minneapolis remains. Tiny vestiges of the open oak barren forest remain and the Dakota have made a return to heal the landscape.

Minneapolis’ diverse community of today has come together to create a clean Lake Hiawatha.

Storm Sewers Dump into Lake

The storm sewers from many miles of streets in South Minneapolis are draining pollution and trash directly into Lake Hiawatha. Please sign this petition to persuade the organizations involved to collaborate in creating an effective system of mitigation in order to clean up the pollutants before they enter the lake. Sign the petition here…

Pumping Ground Water at Lake Hiawatha

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has been pumping far more water out of stormwater ponds into the lake than allowed by its state permit. Due to the fact that the golf course is situated below the water table, resides in a floodplain and is sinking, intensive pumping is required to maintain a dry golf course. Continued pumping increases the rate of soil subsidence (sinking) thus requiring ever more pumping in order to keep the golf course dry. The Minneapolis Park Board now is working with the City and Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to explore different land configurations, now that it has been decided to reduce pumping to 94 million gallons annually from 240 million.. Read more…

Trash accumulates

103 bags of garbage were cleaned from Lake Hiawatha in 2015. Items from a sample collection were identified, sorted and counted. The sample collection was removed from the entire circumference of the Lake. The artifacts were extracted from shallow water and the shore. Read more…

Minnehaha Creek Clean-Up

Celebrating 10 years of cleaning the creek with headquarters at Lake Hiawatha Park. Read more…

Research and Writing Credit: Annette Walby


Current News

3 days 9 hours ago

I am writing about the pre-emption bill relative to my experience at Lake Hiawatha. Since the Minneapolis styrofoam to-go container ban, I have noticed a decrease in the amount of styrofoam pieces found in Lake Hiawatha. An urban stormsewer system in my community washes litter from South Minneapolis' streets directly into Lake Hiawatha where it accumulates by the ton on the shore of the Lake and in its waters. Myself and volunteers working with me have removed 4,500 lbs of trash (225 large trash bags) from the Lake since 2015. In the trash survey I conducted with Carol Nordstrom in 2015 we found that the most numerous trash item found in the Lake was styrofoam with 1,765 pieces of styrofoam found in 6 bags/120 lbs of Lake trash.

I have attached the original 2015 trash survey which demonstrates the high level of styrofoam found in the Lake at that time.

Please Feel free to use this documentation and please share this information with Governor Dayton and those who are working on the pre-emption bill - for or against. Everyone should know what is at stake.
The wildlife are eating the styrofoam and millions of bits of styrofoam are permanently embedded in the soil surrounding Lake Hiawatha. Preventing Minneapolis and other Minnesota communities from taking measures to protect our water and wildlife is inexcusable.

Thank You,
Sean Connaughty
Friends of Lake Hiawatha

This is a photo taken at Lake Hiawatha of a duckling eating a piece of styrofoam in 2016:

4 days 21 hours ago

LAKE HIAWATHA BIODIVERSITY we celebrate the biodiversity of Lake Hiawatha. Can you tell us what animals, birds, fish, plants etc. that you have observed at Lake Hiawatha? Can you tell us what migratory visitors you have seen there? Help us compile our list. I have started here and am hoping for your contribution.

Great Horned Owl
Bald Eagle
Red Tailed Hawk
Great Blue Heron
Night Heron
Wood Duck
Canada Goose
Cooper’s Hawk
Snapping Turtle
Painted Turtle
(mud - soft shelled turtle?)
Freshwater Clam
*Zebra Mussel
American Toad
Northern Pike
Largemouth Bass
Pickerel weed
Lake sedge
Blue Flag
White Pine
Wild Grape
*Virginia Creeper


No longer present:
Wild Rice

1 week 6 days ago

Hello FOLH! I am one member of our group trying to do right by our shared water resources and Lake Hiawatha in particular. There are many involved in these causes, which is fantastic, and yet, there is only one Sean Connaughty, who is the founder of our group. If you have not heard, Sean C. was recently recognized for his volunteer service by the Minneapolis Parks alongside many other incredible volunteers that make our park system exceptional.
Sherry Brooks, Volunteer Coordinator at the Parks, wrote about Sean's efforts, and this good story exemplifies how one person can influence change. Please read the short story that follows, and join us in thanking Sean C. for his leadership by joining him in his efforts. ----Roxanne

Sean Connaughty
Art professor, community man, activist, husband, south Minneapolis resident….and garbage man? Yep, I just described Lake Hiawatha volunteer Sean Connaughty. Since 2013, Sean has been collecting trash at Lake Hiawatha from both the shoreline and his kayak.
Sean’s finds include, but are not limited to: plastic bags, bottles and straws, aerosol and beer cans, toys, flipflops, and snack wrappers. He’s also found plenty of used condoms, diapers, and syringes. Sean has seen, and literally touched it all - one can only hope with gloves on. What’s Sean’s annual trash average haul? More than one ton.
Sean's efforts have inspired community members to get “picking” through Friends of Lake Hiawatha organized clean-ups and storm drain stenciling activities. Sean is a founding member of the Friends organization and lead many, if not most, of the trash picks at the lake.
Sean’s volunteer work at Lake Hiawatha, combined with his artistic abilities, have raised community awareness of pollution in our waterways. In 2015, his trash finds were displayed at the Sandbox Gallery. For the exhibit, Sean displayed a 10 percent sample of the trash collected at the Hiawatha. The exhibit documents what Sean calls a contemporary “midden”, which is an archeology term used to describe a refuse heap, also known as a dump. Citizen behavior is documented in the trash and debris that ends up in the lake. Think about the trash Sean has picked at the lake so far…. this says a lot about our habits, our diet and modern behavior. Additionally, in 2016, Sean launched a video public service announcement to highlight how trash and garbage ends up in Lake Hiawatha. This video was screened at 17 locations throughout the Twin Cities.
Sean, you’re a renaissance man, and your love for the lake and commitment to community is evident in your actions. Thank you for volunteering, and we hope you keep picking…but please, wear gloves.

2 weeks 2 days ago

Today marked the first Water Friendly Yards & Streets Cleanup of 2018. We worked to cleanup one city block on Cedar Avenue between 32nd and 31st Streets South, which is only one of the many streets draining directly into Lake Hiawatha. Here are some statistics for you to consider:
This block is approximately 600 feet long
There is a bus stop at the NE corner and another at the SW corner
We cleaned curbs and boulevards on the East and West sides
4 people worked together for 1.5 hours to gather up trash (total of 6 hours to clean one city block)
We found:
181 wrappers
177 cigarette butts
97 pieces of plastic
69 plastic bottles
59 straws
44 aluminum cans
39 plastic or paper cups
29 caps
14 plastic bags
13 pieces of styrofoam
12 car parts
10 pieces of glass
3 dead animal remains
1 diaper
182 of other items (pieces of metal, condoms, toy parts, etc)
Total of 930 items weighing in at approximately 50 pounds
We found more than a five gallon pail of trash in the first 100 feet of our cleaning efforts (see picture)
More trash was generally found at the corners of each block
Cigarette butts were the predominant find at bus stops.
The east side of the street had more trash than the west side, which we guessed may be due to prevailing winds.
What did we achieve?
We managed to keep this large quantity of trash from entering Lake Hiawatha through the storm sewer system, and hopefully our efforts raised the consciousness of passersby.
Many thanks to Penny and Kathy who are Friends of Lake Hiawatha, and to Erica Spande who is a Master Water Steward.
Please help us help our shared water and land resources by regularly cleaning your own street and yards of debris. Also, join Roxanne for future community Water Friendly Yards & Streets events.