The wild and scenic Mississippi River

This year the Camden News celebrates its 40th year—happy anniversary!  This year is an anniversary for the Mississippi River as well—1976 was the year that the upper Mississippi, from St. Cloud to Anoka, was added to the list of Minnesota Wild and Scenic Rivers.  There are only six rivers in the state that fit this designation, and the DNR states that:

To be eligible for inclusion in the Minnesota Wild and Scenic rivers system, a river or segment of a river, and its adjacent lands must possess outstanding scenic, recreational, natural, historical, scientific, or similar values.

Different sections of this northern part of the Mississippi fall into the “scenic” (i.e. free-flowing and largely undeveloped) and “recreational” (developed, but still protected in many ways).  While the portion of the Mississippi here in Minneapolis is not part of this designation, we benefit in many ways from the protection our upstream waters enjoy. For example, rules about shoreline development and disturbance protect the Mississippi’s waters from excess erosion and run-off pollution; this is the same water that we fish in, boat in, wade in and drink. So, for this 40th anniversary, let’s take a look some of the ways our park visitors enjoy the Mississippi River today, after four decades of protection.

Fishing: There are dozens of species of fish in the Mississippi in this area, and fishing (either from the shore or from boat) is one of the most popular activities in the river parks. In our area, smallmouth bass are one of the most sought-after, but we have caught catfish, sunfish, freshwater drum, bowfin, carp, northern and even walleye from the shore.

Birding: The Mississippi River is one of only a handful of migration routes in the country—migrating birds can easily follow the course of the river north through urban and rural areas alike, and the trees, grasses and shrubs that naturally grow along river banks make excellent places for birds to rest during their journey. In addition, many birds stay right here and nest: herons, yellow warblers, orioles and song sparrows all make their homes here in the park. We see birders year-round, but particularly in the spring.

Boating: On the section of the Mississippi from the Coon Rapids Dam to St. Anthony Falls there are excellent opportunities for exploring the river from the water. Most of the boaters that pass by our park are paddlers—kayaks, canoes and rafts are common here—but motors are welcome as well. From this vantage point one can see relics of long-ago lumber operations, beaver activity and the otherwise inaccessible shores of islands. Paddle from Coon Rapids Dam to Highway 610, and you’d never guess you were right in the cities.

Rock picking: Wander along the river’s edge, and you may notice the wide variety of rocks present there.  Volcanic rock from long ago eruptions, fossils embedded in limestone, crystals of quartz…these rocks tell the history of our area. Most of the rocks here were delivered by glaciers, picked up from the Lake Superior area and bulldozed here thousands of years ago. If you are sharp-eyed and persistent, you may even find some decent-sized agates.

Hiking: Water of any sort draws all people to enjoy its relaxing presence. The Mississippi provides a mellow backdrop to a day-long nature hike, evening walk with your dog or short stroll with a friend.  Large bodies of water also attract wildlife—even in our urban park we see deer, fox, beaver, mink, turtles and otters. But even if you see no animals, a hike along the river is still a chance to connect with something larger than ourselves.

If you were around this area 40 years ago, you probably know first-hand how the Mississippi has benefited from the protections we afford it. Compared to that time, there are more fish, cleaner water and more opportunities to enjoy the river. The more we enjoy and appreciate what we have, the more likely it is that the Mississippi will continue to be protected and enjoyed for the next 40 years.

Join us at Kroening Interpretive Center in North Mississippi Regional Park for the following nature programs: Free Family Fundays:  Come by on Saturday afternoons anytime between 1-4 p.m. for a free family program, all ages welcome:  River Origami on July 2, Geocaching on July 9, Birds of the River on July 16, Natural Art on July 23, and Dragonfly Collecting on July 30. Reservations are not required for the above free programs. Call us at 763-694-7790 for info.

Editor’s note: Allison Holzer has written this column for some years, but now she and the Three River’s  staff at the Kroening Center are moving onto Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park. Thanks Allison! Minneapolis Parks will be taking over programing at North Mississippi Regional Park.