Ramsey County Highpoint Trip Report

Date: September 24, 2005
Author: Mark Ness

Ramsey County is one of the oldest of the Minnesota counties. It is the smallest in the state but the second most populous, being the home of Saint Paul, the state capitol. According to Andy Martin's book, its highest point is a geologic Kame (referred to in this report as Area 1) on the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, at (45 05' 33" N, 93 10' 11" W). The National Guard currently owns the property. All streets leading towards the Kame are gated off and, at the time, I understood that permission must be sought from the Arden Hills City Hall one block east of the intersection of State Highway 96 and Hamline Avenue in Arden Hills.

I attempted to climb the Kame on August 7, 2004. It was the first stop in what was to be a six-county highpointing trip. From my home in Anoka County, I drove on U.S. Highway 10 to the Gate 4 entrance, about half-way between I-35W and State Highway 96. The gate was wide open, with a sign instructing visitors to report to Building 105. I parked in the designated parking lot, which was surprisingly almost full for a Saturday morning. I did see several uniformed soldiers in the area. I rang the bell on the visitor's building but, at 7:30 in the morning, there was no answer. I waited for a few minutes when I was approached by two reservist master sergeants who offered to help. I explained that I was attempting to reach the hill which was clearly visible from there. One of them mentioned that it is on National Guard property but that it was eventually to be turned over to the city of Arden Hills. He mentioned that they wanted people to use that area and that I should drive over to National Guard thanked them and got on my way.

The National Guard building was just around the corner, about 2 miles drive from Gate 4. I drove to the three entrances on the south side of the road but they were all gated and locked. It was still before 8 o'clock. I considered waiting around but wanted to get to my next county. I decided to try this one again during business hours.

On Monday, August 9, 2004, I took some time off from work to attempt Ramsey and Washington counties. I arrived at the New Brighton National Guard building in Arden Hills, where I had attempted to enter on Saturday but it was locked. I drove around and then found someone who could help. I asked for Dave Hamernich. Sergeant Jamie LeClair informed me that he was out that day celebrating his anniversary. He told me to come back the next day to the basement of the Arden Hills City Hall which was the next building east of where I was, at 1245 Highway 96, and that he would be happy to help me.

The next day, August 10, I arrived unannounced at Dave Hamernich's office. He wanted to know what company I represented. I told him that I was not representing any company but was seeking the highest points of all the counties. He told me that the very top was fenced off and that even he did not have the key for that area. He also said that it was an irregular request. He usually only gave tours to photographers and to sponsored groups but that none of them go to the very top. Even he had only been there once.

I rode in his car. He turned right out of the parking lot and another right onto Hamline (the road I had gone to before). Then he turned left at the point where Hamline passed through a gate. Along this road, a military road grader was leveling some ground for planting prairie grass, using special fertilizer and without bringing in topsoil. We then came to a locked gate. He unlocked it, drove through, and relocked it. We took a right onto Snelling, which became Diagonal Road, where it climbed the hill. We went left uphill to the oval- shaped road that encircles the top part of the hill. It gets little use and has grass growing in some parts. Its elevation is about 1080 feet. We drove around it, pausing to photograph the scenery. The fence is old and rusty and has a gate and access stairway on the south side. There is also a vine-covered gate at the north end of the fence but the ground there is lower and there is no staircase.

He offered to make inquiries about access to that area for me and that I should call him later this week at 651-634-5229. I thanked him for his trouble. Total time away from my truck was 37 minutes including the wait time to meet with Mr. Hamernich. Travel time to the hill and back was 15 minutes. We returned the way we came. I made several attempts to contact Mr. Hamernich but he did not return my calls.

On a February day in 2005, I got a call from John Mitchler that he had made a first ascent of this county, with the help of SGT LeClair, and told me that I had been to the wrong hill; that the actual high point was on another hill on TCAAP, one not surrounded by a fence. So I began researching this county more and discovered that there are 4 contours here that require explaining (in decreasing order of elevation):

area 1 - Kame (1,100+ ft)

area 2 - unnamed hill in disturbed area (1,090+ ft)

area 3 - near 14th hole tee at Hillcrest Golf Course (BM 1,075.2 ft)

area 4 - unnamed hill between Kame and disturbed area (1,070+ ft)

During the early summer of 2005, when I was nearing a state completion, I again attempted to gain access to this site. I contacted LeClair, who told me that he has been inundated with requests for this HP and told me that there would be a guided tour of the Kame on September 24, 2005. He gave me the name of the individual who organizes the tour, John Moriarty. Here's an excerpt from the press release:

"They (sic) leaders will be looking for nesting resident birds and late migrants. Hikes are free but pre-registration is needed. Registrations are being taken by Ramsey County's Tamarack Nature Center at (651) 407-5350. The hikes will be lead by local experts. They are scheduled for 45 minutes and will involve walking on dirt roads and through tall grass. Field trips will start at the Hamline Ave. Entrance, which is off of Hwy 96, between Hwy 10 and Lexington Ave. in Arden Hills. Take Hamline Ave. north until you reach the entrance gate."

I inquired from the POC for the hike, called the number and signed up for the tour, which was to meet at the Hamline gate entrance to TCAAP. Bob Schwab, who had completed Pennington County with me the day before, and Bill Schuler met me at the start of the hike. When the three of us approached the expert hike guide, a DNR volunteer, he said, "You're the three who want to go to the county high point", or something like that. Dave Hamernich was also there but did not accompany us. He provided some information about the history of the construction on the Kame that the guide did not know. There were about 25 people, including a few children who showed up for the hike. Due to the rain, he led us in a convoy of our vehicles to a point just below the Kame. From there, we walked north on a road to the southern edge of the disturbed area (shown as purple on the topo map) north of the Kame, which contained the 1090-foot contour (Area 2). We could see that the entire purple area had been mined away and was severely diminished from its previous height, eliminating area 2 from contention. He was very knowledgeable about the birds and plants both local and imported in this, the largest area of wilderness in largely urban Ramsey County.

We continued on to a small 1070+ foot area (area 4), just southwest of the gravel pit. Our guide announced that it was not the highest point in the county but it was on our tour anyway, as a vantage point to see the Minneapolis skyline. We think this may have been the hill that John Mitchler visited. Bob Schwab and Bill Schuler attempted to do a hand-level check with the hill to the south (area 1). While the actual top was obscured by trees, they were able to see a telephone pole between the treetops and determined that base of the pole was definitely higher than area 4. Subsequently, we learned that these light poles are set on top of the water tank at area 1.

From there, we continued south back to our cars and, once again, due to the rain, drove up the access road to the Kame (area 1), the same oval-shaped road I had visited in 2004. Once there, he explained that all the area above the road had been razed and dug down to house a million-gallon cement water reservoir, which was then covered with dirt and is now grass-covered. This suggests that the only remaining natural ground in Ramsey County above 1,080 feet is at that road and the ground below it, where I visited in 2004, but that is just speculation.

The tour guide attempted to unlock the gate with his master key but it didn't fit. He explained the history of the area and entertained questions. Here the tour ended and we returned to the Hamline gate. Then we three decided that because of the uncertainty associated with the natural elevation of the Kame, we thought we should investigate area 3, which contains a Benchmark Ramsey which was set in 1887, reset in 1993, and is listed in the NGS datasheets at 1075.2 feet.

So we drove in separate cars to area 3, at the Hillcrest Golf Club, off Larpenteur Avenue, near its intersection with McKnight Road. Their website claims to be the highest point in Ramsey County.

We parked in their parking lot and asked for permission from the staff. They allowed us to enter and we walked through the rough up to the benchmark. A pair of golfers was teeing off at that time and we waited for them to finish. The area around the benchmark has been bermed for some reason (and these berms seem to rise almost five feet above the benchmark), but the benchmark itself has apparently been undisturbed for over 100 years.

I still think that the highest ground in the county is at the Kame (area 1), just below the oval drive but, given the uncertainties of how much the top really has been disturbed, it may be wise to also visit the Hillcrest Golf Club and BM Ramsey just to be safe!