Inver Hills Unity Trail Project

Tribute to traditional territory of Wahpekute, Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ and Očeti Šakówiŋ

Initiated by Randi Goettl, director of accessibility resources, Michael Birchard, associate vice president of equity and inclusion, and Tim Follett-Dion, sustainability special project assistant, in collaboration with the American Indian Advisory Council at Inver Hills Community College and Dakota County Technical College, the Inver Hills Unity Trail Project proposes redesigning, enhancing and expanding an existing nature trail on the west side of the college’s campus in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.

The one-mile, native prairie trail on campus will be part of a proposed five-mile Unity Trail Spur Loop (see second map below) in Inver Grove Heights that will include interpretive signage highlighting BIPOC voices in the community. Other partners on the project include Inver Glen Library, Simley High School, Inver Grove Middle School, and Inver Grove Heights Parks and Recreation.

Randi Goettl, who also serves as lead on The Bee’s Knees Committee, noted that the Unity Trail Project leverages the drawing power of the Inver Hills Community Garden & Orchard, an important asset on campus, while aligning with the college’s institutional values:

  • Excellence and innovation in education
  • Caring for environmental, human and financial resources
  • Valuing equity, inclusion, integrity and respect

“Our project aims to bring our values alive by transforming our college’s outdoor space in a more community-focused way,” Randi said. “The redesigned trail system throughout our campus will have interpretive signs that tell stories aimed at stimulating visitor interest while challenging their imaginations. We hope the trail and self-guided signage will present new perspectives on local American Indian history, the college’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, protecting our natural environment and raising pollinator awareness.”

Gerry Huerth: American Indian perspective

“The voices of the Dakota Peoples and American Indians are still living in the Inver Hills Unity Trail Project. Despite our national forgetfulness or nostalgic romanticism, all of us can hear echoes of the American Indian worlds as we walk these paths.”
Gerry Huerth
Two Spirit Elder

Tim Follett-Dion: Project assistant perspective

“Working on the Unity Trail Project is a learning opportunity to enhance my communication, technical and leadership skills.”
Tim Follett-Dion
Sustainability Special Project Assistant
Inver Hills Community College

Anna Ferris: Unity Trail partner perspective

“Partnering with Inver Hills Community College and other organizations on this grant proposal has helped deepen our connections and opened the door for further collaboration, within and beyond the grant project.”
Anna Ferris
Parks Outreach Coordinator
Dakota County

Laura Morlock: Unity Trail partner perspective

“As a partner and destination location on the Unity Trail, the Inver Glen Library collaboration will likely include a reading garden, sidewalk poetry, and a story walk. We are excited to embrace more equitable literacy areas that support our Mission to cultivate community, creativity and learning.”
Laura Morlock
Branch Manager
Inver Glen Library

Margaret Stone: Unity Trail partner perspective

“I am excited about this project and the great community partnerships that have come about because of it. The Unity trail will help strengthen community ties and get us all outside together!”
Margaret Stone
Dakota County Library

More about the Unity Trail…

Source: Anna Ferris, Parks Outreach Coordinator, Dakota County

Randi Goettl pointed out that the Unity Trail Project is a wonderful, collaborative way to advance the Inver Hills mission of strengthening communities through education.

“By creating a multipurpose, interpretive campus trail system, we are encouraging more community engagement with our college,” she said, “increasing the college’s visibility in the larger Twin Cities metro area, and promoting regional utilization of a newly beautiful, sustainable and educational campus landscape.”

Michael Birchard serves as associate vice president of equity and inclusion at Inver Hills and Dakota County Technical College. Michael has helped spearhead the Unity Trail Project through his work on the American Indian Advisory Council.

“This project has been an amazing opportunity to bring together many organizations to create a vision that promotes universal humanitarian ideas,” he said. “With this project, we are focused on unity, collaboration and inclusion.”

Unity Trail Project goals include:

  • Increasing trail use by campus and area community members
  • Honoring culture and heritage of Wahpekute, Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux) tribes
  • Educating trail users on proper land recognition
  • Spotlighting Inver Hills as Twin Cities community college most focused on sustainability, environmental preservation and inclusivity

Educational signage for interpretive trail

Educational signage example
  • Using vendor identified as indigenous-owned or other minority-owned
  • Consulting with different stakeholders to ensure accuracy of information
  • Giving historical context as well as providing modern history

Minnesota native: Blue Giant Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

Perennial herb
Growing conditions

Light requirement: Sun, part-shade, shade
Soil type: Sandy to loamy
Soil condition: Moist, well-drained
Climate: Zones 4–8, exceptionally cold-hardy


Conspicuous flowers: YES: Bright blue to violet tubular spikes
Fragrant blooms: YES: Very aromatic with anise scent (licorice)
Fragrant leaves: YES: Smell like anise when crushed
Attracts pollinators: YES: Butterflies, hummingbirds, many species of bees
Nectar: YES: Flowers exceedingly rich with nectar

The Unity Trail Project slated to unfold in four stages:

Unity Trail Project service components

Enjoying the native prairie trail system will be a great reason for IGH residents, young and old alike, to visit our campus. The trail’s educational elements will encourage the college’s K–12 partners to conduct student field trips on our campus.

Inver Hills is only blocks away from Simley Senior High School and Inver Grove Middle School, and only minutes away from Pine Bend Elementary School (seven minutes), Hilltop Elementary School (seven minutes) and Salem Elementary School (nine minutes).

The area surrounding the college features a sizable senior population. Inver Grove Heights offers nearly 190 senior housing and senior living options. The nearby Veterans Memorial Community Center provides programs and activities for active adults 55+, including the IGH Senior Club. The Unity Trail Project would be an ideal destination for older residents seeking a convenient and interesting outdoor experience.

Inver Hills students, staff and faculty will be able to walk the native prairie trail for recreation, socializing and learning, all outcomes that bolster the mission of the college’s Center for Diversity and Equity.

The project will also support The Bee’s Knees Committee, which is responsible for upholding and following through with the college’s commitments as a Bee Campus USA. The Native Trail will create and enhance pollinator habitats on campus in three ways:

  1. Increase native plant abundance
  2. Provide nesting sites
  3. Reduce pesticide use

Research data confirms the mental health and stress-relief benefits of spending time outdoors and experiencing nature. The psychological well-being of young people is a priority for the college and our community. Unity Trail activities for students could be woven into programing for both Student Life and the Counseling department.

5 ways being outdoors can make you healthier and happier¹

  1. Lowers your blood pressure and reduces stress
  2. Improves mood
  3. Improves focus
  4. Helps us heal quicker
  5. Supports graceful aging

Current trail locations gallery

Inver Hills art student connection

Rob Kolomyski, MFA, serves as chair of the Inver Hills Fine Arts department. Rob also teaches painting and drawing courses at the college. His students contributed to the Unity Trail Project by creating several works of art that also express their concerns regarding climate change.

“My advanced painting and drawing students connected with the 2021 Inver Hills Annual Research Conference theme: ‘Seeking Justice,'” Rob reported. “They were inspired by the Unity Trail Project to generate creative research in the form of visual homages to Minnesota native plants and pollinator species.”

Unity Trail Project plant and pollinator gallery

Unity Trail Project-related news

The Bees Knee’ Committee will be sponsoring an event on Earth Day 2021 to clean out an area behind the Science building that will host a slew of different native plants and flowers. The committee is also proposing to make this area a meditative space that will include sponsored benches, places to hang hammocks, art pieces and a mural highlighting the connection indigenous peoples have with the environment.

Inver Hills will be hosting students on campus for Environmental Justice Week, May 17–21, 2021. The plan is to dedicate the on-campus service week to the following activities:

  • Exploring the college’s natural habitat
  • Bringing in speakers from local agencies to discuss career and programming opportunities
  • Having students begin clearing off the Unity Trail and also work in the Inver Hills Community Garden & Orchard

Randi Goettl and Michael Birchard have worked with staff from Dakota County Parks, Inver Glen Library, Simley Senior High School, Inver Grove Middle School and IGH Parks & Recreation to apply for funding via the Metropolitan Council Equity Grant Program.

The grant would fund efforts to expand the Unity Trail Project at Inver Hills into a Unity Trail featuring a five-mile loop of interpretive signage highlighting BIPOC voices in our community. This collaborative effort has allowed the project’s respective parties to consider what programming opportunities can be shared with the larger IGH community. The status of the Equity Grant will be conveyed June 2021.

Randi and Michael are exploring Dakota County grant opportunities to fund a three-acre prairie restoration project where the athletic fields are currently located.

Learn more about the Inver Hills Unity Trail and Native Prairie projects by contacting:

Randi Goettl
Director of Accessibility Resources
The Bee’s Knees Committee Lead

Michael Birchard
Associate Vice President of Equity and Inclusion
Inver Hills Community College and Dakota County Technical College

¹ SOURCE: Sharp

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