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Showing the way to a journey of discovery

From left, Patrick Moore of Clean Up our River Environment, Jennessa Runia, and Heather Beukhof, Montevideo Girl Scout leader, view a sign at Prien's Landing. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)

MONTEVIDEO -- Joseph Nicollet camped where the Chippewa River meets the Minnesota River on Aug. 5, 1838 and dutifully made note of its clear waters and sandy bottom before continuing his map making journey through the frontier lands of what is now western Minnesota.

Some 172 years later, Jennessa Runia started her own journey of discovery at this very spot.

It's also the location where over 30 people gathered last Thursday on the anniversary of Nicollet's arrival to congratulate her on what she accomplished.

Nicollet made his way into the history books for his expeditions to map the region between the Mississippi River and Missouri River.

Runia is a Montevideo Girl Scout who wants us all to learn about the cultural, historical and natural heritage we have here.

"Oki-su-Wak-pa num'' reads the sign that Runia erected at the confluence of the two rivers, as well as a duplicate sign downstream on the Minnesota River at a popular access site known as Prien's Landing.

"Where the two rivers meet'' is the translation of the Dakota words that once again describe this location.

The two signs are the result of her Girl Scout "Gold Award'' project to tell people about the cultural and historical significance of the area.

Runia is a Montevideo high school senior. She has been involved in Scouting since her years as a Brownie. She started researching the history of this place and the people who have lived along these rivers almost a year ago.

Runia said she has come to appreciate just how important this place was to the Dakota and those who followed them here.

She traveled to eastern South Dakota to visit the Nicollet Interpretive Center and tower, and met Dr. Elden Lawrence, a Dakota scholar and historian. Lawrence told her how important the confluence of the two rivers was to the Dakota. It was a gathering place, as well as a location rich in wildlife, fish and wild rice.

Runia also met with Chris Domeier, a fisheries worker with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and learned about efforts to establish an aquatic management area here. It protects wetland and river habitat important to fish and wildlife.

And she learned from the mentor for her project, Patrick Moore, director of Clean Up the River Environment, how to turn her goal of educating people about the importance of this location into the signs that now do so. Moore also helped her win grant funding from the Minnesota River Board to obtain a graphic designer's help in designing the signs around the narrative and information that Runia developed.

"What impressed me is the list of contacts she made and the willingness of people in our community and other communities to help so generously with their time,'' said Heather Beukhof, leader for the Montevideo Girl Scout troop.

Runia said she loves science, supports the goals of cleaning up our local waterways, and enjoys the outdoors. Those three elements led her to the project, she said.

She said the experience opened her eyes to the wealth of talent and information found close to home, and gave her an appreciation for the interesting history and story to be told right at home.

Her hope now is that the signs will perk the interest of others so that they can discover the incredible heritage and resource we have here, and so often overlook.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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