Father Hennepin was born in Belgium in 1640. He became a Franciscan Monk after completing his formal education. Hennepin loved to travel, and as part of his duties, he was sent to visit and write about the major churches of Italy. He later became a traveling merchant for the Franciscan Order. In 1675, Father Hennepin was sent to the new world as part of a group of four missionaries. He landed at Quebec.
Hennepin joined up with Chevalier de la Salle, and set sail up the Saint Lawrence river in 1679. They explored and built forts at such places as Niagara Falls and Green Bay. The trip took them down Lake Michigan and down the Illinois River. Here, Hennepin departed the La Salle party with orders to continue to the mouth of the Illinois River, then head north along the Mississippi River. After starting northward on the Mississippi River, Hennepin and his party were taken captive by Indians in April of 1680. The Indians were headed north, and they traveled to their home area near Lake Mille Lacs. The band of Indians traveled extensively, allowing Father Hennepin to explore east-central Minnesota and the upper Mississippi River. This lead to Hennepin being the first European to see Saint Anthony Falls. The Indians released Hennepin and his party in July, where it voyaged up the Wisconsin and Fox rivers to Green Bay.
In later life, Father Hennepin returned to Europe, where he lived in Rome. He wrote extensively about his journeys. Hennepin died at the age of 61 in 1701. Today, Father Hennepin is remembered in a number of ways, such as having a county bearing his name, a major street, a bridge, and an island. The river front just below the present day falls on the north side of the river is the location of Father Hennepin Bluffs Park. The park features a stairway and walking path across an old river channel and two spillways. There are four pedestrian bridges as part of this path. One was built in 1970, the other three in 1975.
While these bridges are in good condition, the stairways have structural issues and some are closed. The paths are also in disrepair or are rugged and hard to follow. It looks like the park is in disrepair and has been ignored for many years. I also saw evidence that it is often used by homeless people. As a result, do not visit this place alone. There is a proposal to totally redevelop the east bank of the river between the two dams. Xcel Energy had proposed sending money to provide user access to the area, but it could not get community consensus in time for it to submit its application for license renewal. In a follow-up visit in 2008, it appeared that the stairways have been repaired and reopened to the public.