Digging Underneath the River Trail

CAP took the last two weeks off of work due to the holiday and a lack of major construction needing our presence as we prepared to start the major accessioning project we are currently working on. However, at the tail end of last week, we were called out to do some survey underneath the bike lanes alongside the south side of the River Trail between Wells Hall and Erickson Hall.

Newly renovated River Trail sidewalks. Photo courtesy Nikki Silva
Newly renovated River Trail sidewalks.

The bike lanes were pulled up in preparation for a renovation of the river trail on the south side from the Sparty Statue all the way to Erickson Hall and Farm Lane. If you haven’t been on the trail recently, I hope you’ll be surprised to see a completely re-done trail with newly laid ‘green’ sidewalks and a smoother bike path running adjacent to the sidewalk! There are even ‘No Pedestrian’ signs painted into the bike path! This was all in an effort to streamline traffic south of the river where renovations were much needed; the gradient of the trail was also re-worked so as to reduce flooding throughout the year.

The area alongside the Red Cedar River has been a high activity area historically, and prehistorically. Native American groups often utilized the natural resources of the river, and CAP has found evidence for prehistoric occupation. From around 1900 to 1925, the era of campus history that CAP refers to as the Expansion Period, the area alongside the river became a focal point of campus. Several campus activities revolved around the river, including Homecoming floats which were sent down the river. Additionally, there are numerous pictures in the archives of students canoeing down the river and lounging by the riverside.

Red Cedar tug of war- rivalry between freshman and sophomores, 1913. Courtesy MSU Archives
Red Cedar tug of war- rivalry between freshman and sophomores, 1913. Courtesy MSU Archives

With this information in mind, we knew that systemically shovel testing the River Trail could tell us more about the historical use of the river. As the old trail was being pulled up we put in a shovel test pit every 10 meters from Wells Hall all the way down to Erickson Hall. Unfortunately,  the survey wasn’t altogether super interesting, we found some nails and glass as usual. But towards the end of the day when we got down by Erickson Hall, we found a small piece of decorated transfer print whiteware and in another test pit we found an unusual number of nails, a rusted metal water pipe, and some engraved masonry. The increase in artifacts at Erickson Hall makes sense, because of the proximity to the Farm Lane Bridge. That Farm Lane Bridge is one of the oldest on campus (obviously the bridge itself isn’t original, but the location of the crossing is) therefore it is logical that artifacts would be more prevalent closer to a water crossing. Additionally, the riverbank closer to Wells Hall shows evidence of modification, which was most likely done to prevent flooding.

We look forward to more River Trail renovations so we can discover more about MSU’s use of the Red Cedar.


Author: Josh Schnell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *