Pilot Knob is a high, prominent hill on the east bank of the Minnesota River near where it meets the Mississippi River. It is a sacred, spiritual site and burial ground for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux. Pilot Knob is the historic signature site of the Treaty of 1851, where millions of acres of Dakota tribal land were ceded to the United States.
This historic and scenic overlook provides views of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, Fort Snelling State Park, and downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is an historic navigational marker and was identified as one of Minnesota’s 10 most endangered historic places in 2003 and 2004 by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. Historic Minnesota figure, Henry Sibley, described the area as an “amphitheater” embracing the junction of two great rivers.
The Minnesota River Valley Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, Fort Snelling State Park and Big Rivers Regional Trail are nearby. The wildlife that frequents this area includes eagles, migrating raptors and songbirds, long-eared owls, wild turkeys, and whitetail deer. Renowned for bird observation, Pilot Knob attracts numerous uncommon and rare species because of its elevation, prominence, and location where two major river valley wildlife corridors meet.
The first phase of the Pilot Knob natural area protection and restoration project was achieved in December 2006, with the acquisition of 8.2 acres of private land by the City of Mendota Heights. Dakota County, through the Farmland and Natural Areas Program (FNAP), provided $410,000 toward the $2.1 million acquisition and restoration cost. Subsequently, the Acacia Cemetery Association sold an adjacent 15 acres to enlarge the Pilot Knob natural area site to nearly 25 acres. The Trust for Public Land submitted a natural area application in 2007 on behalf of the City of Mendota Heights. This was the highest-ranked project by the FNAP Citizen Advisory Committee and $400,000 of program funds were allocated for the $1.94 million acquisition cost.
The City of Mendota Heights contracted with the non-profit organization, Great River Greening, to complete a Natural Resource Management Plan and cost estimate for restoration and public access facilities.
Pilot Knob has national historic significance. With its acquisition and permanent protection, it is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.