It was my idea to go see Minnesota’s largest cottonwood tree. I don’t think my family was nearly as excited about spending time with a cottonwood tree on a Saturday afternoon as I was. We loaded into our vehicles and made our way to the local destination near Lac qui Parle State Park.
I don’t think many people in the area know that this tree exists. It is the best kept secret around. I have visited the monster tree a few times since moving to Madison in 1970. I get excited about things like this, for instance when I drive through Darwin, Minnesota I always make it a point to drive by the Worlds Largest Ball of Twine. I’ve got to see it. My wife, Roxie and I are big Little House on the Prairie fans and we have traveled to Pepin, Wisconsin, Walnut Grove, Minnesota and DeSmet, South Dakota to see the sites that Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about in her books. If I am driving along the road and I see a historical marker ahead I will stop and read the plaque. So when there is a small sign off the county road that says Cottonwood tree, I’m going to check it out.
I think the first time I saw this tree was when I was in high school. Roxie and I often spent time at the state park and the dam and the LQP Mission Church when we were in high school. I love history and always liked going to the LQP Mission and reading about the history behind why the mission church was established.
The Lac qui Parle Mission was a site for Christian missionary work to the Dakotas for nearly 20 years. After Joseph Renville’s death in 1846, the mission was taken over by the “irreligious” Martin McLeod. The mission’s relationship with the Dakota soured, and in 1854, the missionaries left Lac qui Parle for the Upper Sioux Agency. Lac qui Parle Mission was abandoned and fell into disrepair. In 1941, Lac qui Parle was designated as a state park, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) reconstructed the Lac qui Parle Mission building that stands today
So this area is special to me. I thought taking the grandkids out to the largest cottonwood tree would be exciting for them. We parked our cars off the county road near the Mission Church. There is a small sign that says Cottonwood Tree and also a trail that is well worn that leads to the tree. I am guessing it is about 100 yards off the road, so it is a short hike, but the terrain gets really steep and treacherous. For senior citizens like myself and Roxie it can be difficult. However, we made our way to the special cottonwood. It really is impressive to see. Our family gathered next to it for a picture and some tried climbing it.
We all stood at the trunk of the large tree and looked up to see its branches reach to the sky. It is big and tall. I enjoyed watching my family smile as they marveled at its size. It was a good family outing.