John Latsch State Park

Location: Winona County southeast of Minnieska.

Owner/manager: Winona County southeast of Minnieska.

Directions:

From the southeast at Interstate 90 exit 252: Go northeast on Highway 43 seven miles to Highway 61 (Great River Road) in Winona and turn left. Go northwest on Highway 61 a little over fifteen miles to the park entrance on the left. $$$. Camping. Pets on leash.


John Latsch was a wealthy owner of a wholesale grocery business in Winona who was fond of paddling his canoe along the Mississippi River. One summer day he was pursuing his favorite activity when a thunderstorm developed. Pulling up on a riverbank John Latch was met by the gun-toting owner of the property and his snarling dog. Forced to proceed on his way despite the foul weather John Latch angrily vowed to buy up all the available land along this part of the Mississippi River so as to preserve its open public access. Over the next thirty years he proceeded to do just that purchasing over 18,000 acres along a twenty five mile stretch of the Mississippi in the vicinity of Winona.

This story does not have a happy ending. In 1934, the year of John Latsch’s death, the federal government condemned by eminent domain much of the river bottomlands acquired through John Latsch’s philanthropy. This land eventually became part of a long series of navigation and flood control projects.

The bluffs along the Mississippi that John Latsch purchased did not have the same political and economic value as the bottomlands. These lands were eventually incorporated into several parks and preserves in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Almost all charge fees and probably do not entirely incorporate the simple open access philosophy of the man who purchased them on behalf of the public. John Latsch State Park is one of these, a small usually deserted park. Three bluffs lie within the park. They are called Faith, Hope and Charity and received their names in the 19th century from steamboat captains who used then as navigation aids. There is a modest bluff prairie here and some fine views accessible from a short but steep trail.

The bluff prairies of southeast Minnesota often represent warmer and drier microenvironments than their surroundings and harbor many plants and animals that are more characteristic of the grasslands hundreds of miles to the west. These bluff prairies are true prairies in the sense that they remain grasslands by virtue of their steep south facing slopes rather than by frequent fire. They are often cloaked in pasque flowers in the early spring when their surroundings may still harbor snow. These steep little prairies are now in the public domain thanks to the land conservation efforts of a man who is now largely forgotten.