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Grey Cloud Island

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

I am sorry to report that Minnesota may be only months away from a war to determine the fate of the Upper and Lower Grey Cloud Island, a three-mile-long wedge in the Mississippi River just 20 miles from downtown St. Paul, named after a Dakota Sioux woman. For the moment, Minnesota cannot decide which of five sides to take, especially since all sides are demanding that other parties be reasonable.

Side one is composed of the few longtime residents of the island, who would like nothing better than to be left alone as rural residents of Grey Cloud Township, paying no city taxes. “Be reasonable,” they say, “we were here first.”

Side two is Camas, a mining company which has established an open pit sand and gravel mine on the lower island. “Be reasonable,” says Camas, “The growing Twin Cities needs the high-grade sand and gravel composing much of the island—sand and gravel deposited by the glaciers long ago.

“Wait a minute,” says side three, the adjacent community of Cottage Grove. Its city attorney owns 600 acres of Grey Cloud, on which he proposes to build a thousand-home development. “Be reasonable,” say the developers. St. Paul will need 350,000 new homes in the next 20 years, and we’re running out of space.

“Not so fast,” chimes in side four, the Friends of Grey Cloud, who want to open the whole island as a park. The thick woods and wildlife on the island would create a northern Minnesotan landscape within easy reach of the Twin Cities. “Be reasonable,” they say, “let everyone enjoy Grey Cloud.”

“Let’s really be reasonable,” says the fifth group, the environmentalists who point to the two hundred Indian burial mounds on the island and to 2,000-year-old pottery shards which suggest prehistoric settlements that need to be protected.

Minnesota is watching Grey Cloud Island with a wary eye. It does have the power to annex the island township, but it does not want to be too hasty. There’s enough reason on that island to blow it clear out of the Mississippi.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.