The spring the willow long has marked has been there an estimated 9,000 years and was long a sacred site for the indigenous people, probably preceding the current Anishinaabe and Dakota people. It was once Camp Coldwater, an adjunct to Fort Snelling. Troops and settlers were quartered there and water was hauled up to the fort, with a pumping system deployed in later years. It was a source of water for the fort from 1820 to 1920.
From the 1950s to 1991 it was an important Department of Interior, Bureau of Mines research center. The site was transferred to the Park Service in 2010. When MnDOT rebuilt the Highway 55 interchange they did so without the required environmental assessment, claiming that they would prevent any harm to the spring. Their illegal action caused a loss of more than 27,500 gallons a day. The spring is currently flowing about 90,000 gallons a day.
Much has been written about the site:
A history of Camp Coldwater.
Friends of Coldwater.
Minnesota Public Radio did a major feature on it in 2006.
Susu Jeffrey, found of Friends of Coldwater, led a group to visit the old willow before it was to be removed. She has lobbied, worked and written for the preservation of this historic area. One example.
The visitors sprinkled a circle of corn meal around the tree, celebrating its life and vitality. Some branches were clipped to be sprouted for future descendants of the tree.
Plans for development remain uncertain as Congress wrestles wiht budget issues and there is a group in Congress that wants to cancel all such project. Thus the sacred spring and its environs are left in disarray.