Pilot Knob overlooks a broad valley carved by glacial meltwater about 12,000 years ago. The area, where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers meet, features a hill that became a sacred gathering place for Native American people. It was named Oheyawahe, “a hill much visited,” by the Dakota people centuries ago.
The site holds historical significance. It was suggested as the location for the new Minnesota Territory capitol. It was also the site where the Dakota people signed a treaty ceding 35 million acres, , including most of the southern portion of the state, to the U.S. government.
In 2002, developers planned to build 157 townhomes on the north slope of the area, between Acacia Park Cemetery and Highway 55. A broad coalition of Native Americans, local residents, historians, archaeologists, faith communities, and environmental groups united to preserve the land as a public natural area.
In 2006, the City of Mendota Heights, with diverse funding assistance, including $400,000 from the County, purchased 8.2 acres from the developer. In 2007, the City acquired another 17.2 acres from Acacia Park Cemetery, with an additional $400,000 from the County.
The City contracted with Great River Greening, a non-profit conservation organization, to restore the former prairie and oak savanna plant communities. A small parking area and an unpaved trail lead to the Seven (Dakota) Council Fires Overlook, where the Minneapolis and St. Paul downtown skylines are visible. A future pedestrian trail connection to the adjacent Big Rivers Regional Trail is currently being planned.