Sunny Sunday snowshoe celebration

Temperatures climbed out of the single digits today from where they have been stuck since Christmas, into the 15-20 degree range. A Sunday blessing. We celebrated this afternoon with a snowshoe hike at some DNR land up by Forest Lake. We all had some pent up energy from a couple weeks of weather that does not encourage outdoor recreation, though I think Lola most of all.

As we hiked away from the car, we could feel a breeze at our back and Katie remarked it would be in our faces on the way back. Our hike took us along the edge of a woods of mixed hardwoods with rolling corn fields to our left. As we trekked along, the sun came out and we reveled in the feeling of it on our faces. The woods narrowed and then jutted out like a peninsula into a large wetland. When the woods terminated, we set out across the marsh, aiming for more woods on the other side.

We didn’t make it that far. About halfway across it suddenly became apparent that the dog was flagging. While she had a lot of energy from not getting much exercise, apparently she was also out of shape. She was no longer bounding through the snow and when I called her back she struggled along slowly, pushing through the chest-high snow. Since she’s not smart enough to just slow down, we turned back.

The breeze was on our faces like Katie predicted, but the sun and blue sky was out too, and that more than made up for it.


Legacy Amendment money at work in St. Croix watershed

The St. Croix: clean water, great recreation, and valuable habitat.I’m glad to hear that money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment–which Minnesota voters passed in 2008 to increase the statewide sales tax to fund conservation, arts and culture project–is going to make a real impact in the St. Croix River watershed.

Minnesota conservation legend Darby Nelson, who now serves on the Lessard Council which makes recommendations to the Legislature on how to spend the money on habitat projects every year, mentions a couple interesting projects that the council is recommending in a post on The first one addresses a dire need along the Lower St. Croix where development is threatening the river:

A million dollar allocation to Washington County will help preserve fish and wildlife habitat by protecting 253 acres of critical riparian habitat and one mile of shoreland. The work will complete a permanently protected three mile continuous corridor along the lower St. Croix.

Referencing the original application (PDF), it looks to be primarily conservation easements on some land located adjacent to St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park and Carpenter Nature Center.

Valley Creek, a unique trout stream in Afton and a St. Croix tributary, will benefit from a $1.2 million allocation:

This stream that flows into the St. Croix is one of very few trout streams in Minnesota where trout populations can perpetuate themselves through natural reproduction. According to Tom Waters, retired fisheries professor at the University of Minnesota, not only is this stream one of the best producers of trout in the state but it is believed to be in the top ten percent of trout streams in the world by that measure. More than twenty endangered or at risk wildlife species call the stream’s watershed home.

Here is the full request (PDF). By all accounts, it’s an amazing little stream and the only trout stream of any note within 50 miles of my home. But I’ve never fished it and probably never will, because landowners along the stream are notoriously protective and gaining any access is all but impossible. It grates against the sensibilities of many of us trout fishers who so value public access to public waters.

Maybe this issue speaks to the struggle many conservation organizations–and particularly the secretive trout-fishing community–face : do you publicize and open up a stream to fishing so you build a strong community that will work for its protection? Or is the added pressure not worth the political potential? In this case, it seems like the landowners and a nonprofit were enough to get the job done.

A bit further from the river, but in the watershed, I recently learned that Lake Elmo Park Reserve, a popular destination for cross-country skiing, will be getting some lighted ski trails for nighttime skiing and a beautiful barn on the property will be converted to a chalet/warming house, all with our tax dollars. Edit: D’oh. By my own map of the watershed, it appears the the Park Reserve is actually just outside the watershed.

It’s really great hearing about all this and it’s exactly why I voted “yes.” Let’s hope the legislature respects the Lessard Council’s hard work and approves these projects in the upcoming session!

Related blog posts about the amendment from back when it was being debated:


Feature presentation: “The St. Croix: A Northwoods Journey”

The National Park Service produced a terrific 20-minute film about the St. Croix River two years ago titled “The St. Croix: A Northwoods Journey.” It’s available for viewing at the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway headquarters in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and as a loaner DVD from several libraries in the region.

But it has not been available on the Internet … until now! As a citizen who loves the river, I thought I could help and I have taken the liberty of posting it here.

It seems like in this day and age, government agencies ought to make such materials available online, though I understand the bureaucracy and such can be overwhelming. But it is a great flick with beautiful footage of this wonderful river, and unique characters expressing what it is about the St. Croix that is so special. In any case, I think it deserves a wider audience that it is destined to receive with limited physical availability.


(The video is a large file and make take some time to load. Please be patient.)

Love the river or know someone who does? Use the “ShareThis” link below to easily let your friends and family know about the film through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or your choice of social media.


These roads don’t move, you’re the one that moves

Big Sur coastline, 2006I bought my copy of Jack Kerouac’s novel “Big Sur” at City Lights Bookstore when I visited San Francisco in 2006. I then proceeded to read it during a camping trip down to the namesake region of the California coast with my friends Zack and Steve.

It’s a dark book about Kerouac’s struggles with fame and alcohol. In it, he is plagued by hangers-on and wannabes; the “King of the Beatniks” can find no relief in the wake of the publication of “On the Road.” It can be argued that Kerouac never really recovered from the publication of that book and the demons he confronts in “Big Sur” led to his alcoholism-related death in 1969.

My own trip down to Big Sur was more about camping in the redwoods and hiking at a state park than suffering through delirium tremens, but it was poignant to read the book near where it was written. And I heard the song of the crashing waves that Jack famously meditates on in the book.

The new soundtrack album for the documentary “One Fast Move Or I’m Gone” by Benjamin Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) and Jay Farrar (Son Volt) has received quite a bit of airplay and other attention, but the film for which it was produced has been fairly under the radar. “One Fast Move or I’m Gone” takes a look at Kerouac’s life through the lens of his novel “Big Sur.”

The film looks like the typical talking head thing, but with some pretty good heads: Tom Waits, Sam Shepard, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, to name a few. Also, through digging around the film’s website a bit, I learned that the guy who played restaurateur Artie Bucco on The Sopranos is also a Kerouac “interpreter” (he provided voice-over work on the documentary).



River of all my years, where it goes

“Today I took my seven-year-old son on a “secret mission” into Wisconsin and on the way home we made a brief stop at the spot where hwy. 35 crosses the St. Croix. We quietly waded out into the channel and marveled at the beauty of the place. “Where does this river go?” he asked. I told him exactly where and watched as his glance slowly moved from the opposite shore to downstream. I could almost hear his little gears turning.” – Commenter eric regarding the St. Croix and my recent misadventures at its source

It goes to a place where it is wider and deeper by a magnitude of a hundred than it is in those boulder-filled headwaters. Where on the weekends it is not a river of water rushing over rock but of speedboats navigating amongst water skiers and jet skis on choppy, windy water. Of cold beer and chips and swimming on sandbars.

The shores here are home to a few pines like they are there, but mostly they are thick with leafy trees. There are houses, cabins, docks and beaches; not as many as some would have it, but far more than in those wild and lonesome upper reaches.

This place is not far from where it gives its waters, which rise in the low bogs of that northern land, to the Mississippi. Many call it a lake here, as it broadens and slows before joining the Father of Waters. But, though this river might here have much in common with a lake, there is still one important difference: it is going somewhere.