State Water Trails Newsletter: 2013 Year in Review

2013 Year in Review
Minnesota State Water Trails

Minnesota State Water Trails: your routes to dsicovery since 1963.

State Water Trails are recreational routes managed for canoeing, kayaking, boating and camping.  The Minnesota DNR provides free maps, camping, river level reporting and trip planning resources – all of which can be found on the State Water Trails website

50th Anniversary of the Minnesota State Water Trails System

Outdoor recreation activists Clyde and Shirley Ryberg worked diligently for years championing grassroots efforts to establish canoeing and boating opportunities in Minnesota.  Due to their efforts, the 1963 state legislature and Governor Karl Rolvaag designated the Minnesota, St. Croix, Big Fork and Little Fork Rivers as the first “canoe and boating routes” in the state.  The name was later changed to the “Minnesota State Water Trails” system.  Governor Rolvaag saw these designations as an opportunity to “arouse the sleeping recreational giant” of canoeing, and as an opportunity for economic development and conservation. You can read about the history of the system on our website.

Minnesota now has the first and largest water trail system in the nation, with over 4,500 miles of mapped and managed routes, and over 1,500 facilities (public water accesses, campsites, rest areas and portages). There is a Minnesota State Water Trail within an hour of almost anywhere in the state.  To celebrate the 50th anniversary, the DNR partnered with several local groups to put on events around the state: 

Wilderness Inquiry boats lined up on the shore to watch the Paddling Theater scene involving the Franklin Steele.

Minnesota River History "Paddling Theater"

Montevideo-based nonprofit Clean Up the River Environment (CURE) and Minneapolis-based nonprofit Wilderness Inquiry partnered with the DNR to put 230 people on the Minnesota River in canoes and kayaks at CURE’s annual Minnesota River History Weekend, May 17-19 in Granite Falls.  CURE contracted with PlaceBase Productions to organize the theatrical performance.  On the guided 8.4 mile “Paddling Theater” route, the paddling audience engaged with over 50 volunteer actors, musicians and event volunteers on land and from their ten-person voyageur canoes provided by Wilderness Inquiry. Characters from throughout history emerged on the river banks, islands and other watercraft, to lead the audience on an interactive journey into the past and future of the Minnesota River Valley.  An alternative paddling experience was offered on the “Historic Rapids” route, where experienced paddlers shot Class I-III rapids that reemerged after the removal of the 107 year old Minnesota Falls dam earlier in the spring.

Friday night included a history exhibit, a showing of the film “River Revival: Working Together to Save the Minnesota River,” and presentations about the Minnesota State Water Trails system, the Hudson Bay Bound expedition from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay, and the removal of the Minnesota Falls dam.  On Saturday evening, there was great bluegrass music from Hey Lonesome and Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade.  On Sunday, people with their own watercraft and transportation organized additional paddling opportunities in the area.

To get a glimpse of what Paddling Theater on a Water Trail looks like, check out the production highlights video (13 minutes).

Local Grants for 50th Anniversary Events

State Water Trails thrive on the support of local units of government, paddling clubs, nonprofits and outfitters.  To recognize our partners’ efforts to increase public awareness and participation, the DNR distributed $15,000 through a grant program designed specifically to support 50th anniversary events.  No plans are in place yet for future State Water Trail grants, but the DNR will be exploring that potential.  The following organizations received 50th anniversary promotional event grants in 2013:

Hundreds of paddlers heading down the St. Croix river as part of the St. Croix River Association's "Ramping up River Awareness Week".

St. Croix River Association ($1,400) for their July 13-21 “Ramping up River Awareness Week” event. This event engaged about 1,500 people in intergenerational service and educational projects that built a strong community of watershed stewards to restore the health and beauty of the St. Croix River and its watershed.

Friends of the Mississippi River ($3,500) for their July 27-28 “Mississippi River Challenge.” This paddling event on the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers covered 43.5 river miles and connected 550+ paddlers, pledgers, volunteers, partners and sponsors to their local waterways in an enjoyable and meaningful way, raising awareness of issues facing the Mississippi River and its watershed.

Boats and paddlers lined up along a wooded shore waiting to put in.
Stand up paddleboarderso f all ages and kayakers on Lake Superior

Two Harbors Kayak Festival ($4,000) for their Aug. 2-4 festival on Lake Superior. This sea-kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding event gave 299 people of varying ages and experience levels a chance to participate in races, clinics, tours and youth activities.

Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District ($2,600) for their Aug. 10 “Take a Day OFF (Outdoor Family Fun) on the Mississippi River” event. This event offered families free hands-on instruction in a variety of outdoor recreational activities.  More than 1,500 people participated. Grant funds were utilized to provide on-water recreational activities such as canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.

Young woman paddling a kayak on the Mississippi with a full Voyageur canoe in the background
2 adults and 3 kids standing next to their piles of trash and tires collected through an Adopt-a-River cleanup with paddles in hand.

Crow River Organization of Water ($3,500) for their Sept. 21 “Crow River Clean-up Day.” This event engaged more than 50 partners throughout the Crow River Watershed and provided an opportunity for 300 citizens to improve water quality while creating community pride and an enduring sense of stewardship for their local waters. 

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Letter from the Water Trails Advisory Committee Chair, John Helland

John Helland, Chair of the Water Trails Advisory Committee

The Water Trails Advisory Committee (WTAC) is making steady progress since it came into being 18 months ago.  It was indeed a pleasure to work with Erik Wrede and others in helping to plan, and then participate, in the 50th anniversary of the State Water Trails System on and along the Minnesota river.

One of WTAC’s goals is to establish clean-up outings on State Water Trails that have pollution concerns due to significant amounts of trash and other debris.  In late September, WTAC representatives were able to assist on a five-mile stretch of the Ottertail River in Becker County, which has had a lot of use and debris from tubing outfitters in the area.  After a successful clean-up effort, we wrote a letter to the Becker County Board requesting them to monitor the progress in keeping the Ottertail River clean.

In the opposite corner of the state, WTAC member Beth Kallestad had a big hand in alerting public officials regarding continuing problems of the operation of Hidden Valley Campground, along the banks of the Cannon River near Welch.  An October ruling by the district court enjoined the campground owners from operating without a required license by the Minnesota Department of Health.  The Department is closely watching to ensure that if the campground opens again, it will do so properly.

As was the case with Hidden Valley Campground, it is often committed groups of concerned residents that notice issues and make change happen.  WTAC members are encouraging all “Friends of” groups along individual State Water Trails to let Erik Wrede know if the committee can help them in any way.  We have record of a number of groups already but still don’t have a Friends group for the following State Water Trails:  Cedar, Des Moines, Little Fork, Long Prairie, Pine, Vermilion and Whitewater rivers.  If anyone reading this knows any individuals along these State Water Trails that may be interested in starting a Friends group, please let Erik Wrede know.

Lastly, we are excited about the Parks and Trails Division planning a State Water Trails summit in the Fall of 2014.  Like previous bicycle summits, this is a great chance to bring Friends groups and other paddling advocates and enthusiasts together to talk about capacity building, networking and tourism promotion.  Stay tuned to hear more details as the months of 2014 proceed.  

Thanks for your continuing interest!


John Helland

Water Trails Advisory Committee Chair


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New Outreach Products

Screenshot of the Lake Superior State Water Trail virtual tour, where the point of view is from the top of a rock formation overlooking the lake.

Check out new virtual tours (videos, interviews with experts, and panoramic photos) of the Cannon River, Lake Superior, Upper Minnesota River, Mississippi River Headwaters, and St. Croix River.

Front cover of the new Water Trails guide with image of a man and his young son in a canoe on the river.

Contact the DNR Information Center to order your free Minnesota State Water Trails Guide, a new publication that gives an overview of each of Minnesota’s 33 State Water Trails. This publication has never before been printed and has been a hot commodity everywhere it has been displayed.  The guide provides everything from "Tips Before You Go" to information regarding the number of campsites and classification of rapids.  It's the perfect gift for both the novice and the experienced paddler.







Below, check out the great new display in the DNR building at the Minnesota State Fair, and next time you're there, hop in the kayak for a photo with your family and friends.

Three young women in the kayak that was part of the new State Water Trails display at the Minnesota State Fair.

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Restoring the Pomme de Terre River to historic channel for the protection of Marsh Lake

Pomme de Terre River

Marsh Lake, at the border of South Dakota, has often been considered to be one of the best areas for wildlife in the region.  Outdoor recreation enthusiasts have flocked to the region for generations for canoeing, boating, hunting, fishing, bird watching, and more.  This area of significant beauty and wildlife diversity is considered by the National Audubon Society as a bird area of national importance.  More than 250 species have been recorded annually and it contains the largest breeding colony of White American Pelicans in North America.

However, this lake is also facing some extreme challenges that have gotten the attention of local residents and organizations, as well as state and federal bodies.  In the last 7 decades, the wildlife and riparian systems have suffered, water quality has degraded, and turbidity has increased dramatically.  The most prevalent fish in Marsh Lake is the common carp, an invasive species that currently makes up 2/3 of the fish biomass in the ecosystem.  

The problems identified are often related to the construction of the Marsh Lake dam built back in the 1930s.  In the early years, the wildlife in the region continued to prosper, but the dam’s continued existence has resulted in a degraded Marsh Lake and riparian system, low-diversity fish population, and a degraded Pomme de Terre River ecosystem.

The Pomme de Terre River is one of Minnesota’s 33 State Water Trails.  A beautiful river, the Pomme de Terre was cut short by 11,500 feet when the dam was built and the river’s outlet was redirected from the Minnesota River into Marsh Lake.  The straightening of the river channel for the new outlet removed the natural meander of the river, resulting in increased rate and volume of water and sediment from the river entering into Marsh Lake.  Altogether, the channeling contributes to both the rapid and high fluctuations in water levels as well as the degraded water quality.  The outlet of the river above the dam also creates a winter home for the common carp and cuts off access to spawning grounds for native fish.   

This fall, after nearly a decade of pressure from the community and stakeholders, it was announced that $6.4 million will be appropriated to the Marsh Lake Ecosystem Restoration Project for the restoration of the Pomme de Terre River back to its historic channel.  This will help reduce the number of common carp in the ecosystem, address water level fluctuations, and sedimentation and sediment re-suspension in the lake.  Connecting the Pomme de Terre back with the Minnesota River will also restore a canoe route linkage with the Minnesota and the upper end of Lac qui Parle Lake.  

The DNR will be the State partner for this project, funded through the federal Water Resources Restoration and Defense Act.  Long-range plans for the project also include the removal of the Marsh Lake Dam, an improved day use area including canoe landings and a portage, and efforts to stabilize the shoreline.  


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Adopt-a-River Celebrating its 25th Anniversary in 2014

Adopt-a-River: stewarding public waters for 25 years

In 2014, the Minnesota Adopt-a-River program will be celebrating its 25th Anniversary.  This milestone year creates an opportunity to look back on the program’s beginnings and successes.

Minnesotans have long held a firm belief that people need to be involved in the protection of surface water.  The State Water Trails system was established in 1963 as the Canoe and Boating Routes program to help draw attention to the rivers and get people to think about them differently.   In 1967, Minnesota adopted the state’s first water quality standards—a full five years before the passage of the Federal Clean Water Act.  20 years later, the Perpich administration established the inter-agency Minnesota Clean Rivers Task Force, acknowledging the continuing environmental concerns of Minnesotans.  This task force evolved into the Minnesota Clean Rivers Project, which was created to instill pride in our rivers and promote programs and citizen actions to protect their scenic beauty, recreational opportunity, and water resources.  

After a series of well-publicized, governor-sponsored cleanups in 1988, a more sustainable, scaled-down approach to shoreline cleanup was instituted in 1989 with the formation of the Adopt-a-River program.  Inspired by one of the governor’s cleanups in Cloquet on the St. Louis River (September 30, 1988), the Woodlander’s 4-H Club became the first Adopt-a-River group on October 17.  The first group reporting an Adopt-a-River shoreline cleanup was Boy Scout Troop 249, cleaning Brown’s Creek in Stillwater on August 14, 1989. This is now the location of one of the DNR’s newest trails: the Brown’s Creek State Trail.

Starting from one Boy Scout Troop effort in 1989, the program has grown over the years.  It has now completed 3,330 cleanups with almost 96,000 volunteers, removing 6.3 million pounds of trash from 12,000 miles of shoreline.  In today’s dollars, this volunteer community’s contribution is valued at about $7,000,000.  The vision of Adopt-a-River continues to mirror the goals set by the task force more than 25 years ago, a vision to create a future where—as a result of citizen stewardship—Minnesota’s surface waters are free of man-made debris, establishing a rich and beautiful ecological, economic, and recreational resource.

Adopt-a-River has set an ambitious goal for its 25th Anniversary to reach 7 million pounds of trash and 100,000 volunteers.  That’s a goal to collect 600,000 pounds of trash and mobilize 4,300 volunteers in the year 2014.  It will be a stretch and definitely put the program to the test, but it can be achieved with your help.  Consider signing up to participate in what is one of the easiest ways to steward Minnesota’s waters.  There is likely an available river, lake, ravine, pond, ditch or wetland near you waiting to be adopted.

Want to see what Adopt-a-River was up to last year?  Check out the Cleanup Review.


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Minnesota Falls Dam Removal

Check out the time-lapsed video of the Minnesota Falls dam removal from January 2013.  This section of the Minnesota River , just downstream from Granite Falls, now features several Class I-II rapids and one Class II-IV rapid (depending on water levels).   The river is still finding its course, and will continue to change for years to come.

Artist's rendition of what the rapids could look like at Minnesota Falls

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District Court Orders Closure of Hidden Valley Campground on the Cannon River

Hidden Valley Campground has been in operation on the Cannon River near Welch, MN since 1967.  The campground was allowed to continue operations after the legislature designated the Cannon as a State Wild & Scenic River in 1980.  There are only six rivers in this program, which was created to protect rivers with outstanding natural, scenic, geographic, historic, cultural, and recreational values.

The campground has been embroiled in a number of legal disputes with various government entities for several years.  In one of these disputes, Goodhue County revoked the campground’s conditional use permit.  The Minnesota Department of Health then declined to renew the campground’s license to operate in 2012 citing, among other reasons, that the campground failed to properly maintain adequate sewage facilities.  The campground continued to operate in 2013 (without the required license), and in September the district court ordered the campground to immediately discontinue operations.  

Local river advocates have been extremely concerned about water quality issues, disregard for county ordinances and state law, and numerous public safety complaints.  They organized to bring the campground’s actions to the attention of county and state officials.  They will also be watching closely in 2014 to make sure the campground does not attempt to open without the required county conditional use permit and state campground license.  Now the campground will either have to clean up its act or go out of business. 


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2013 I Can Paddle! Season Another Great Success!

Young boy stabilizing a canoe at a 2013 I Can Paddle! On the Lake program at Fort Snelling State Park.

The DNR offers programs designed to provide first-time paddlers with the skills they need to enjoy a lifetime of paddling.  The I Can Paddle! program, made available through Legacy Amendment funds, is a great way to get people out on the water for the first time. Experienced guides and small group sizes mean participants get the individualized attention they need to become paddling pros in no time.

Three different program formats are offered. I Can Paddle! On the Lake is a 2 hour program taking place on the still, flat water of a lake.  The program is perfect for someone wanting to learn the basics in a shorter amount of time and on non-moving water.  I Can Paddle! On the River also teaches the basics but on a moving river over the course of 5 hours.  Instruction goes a little more in depth and covers river dynamics and tips for reading the river.  For the first time in 2013, I Can Paddle! Sea Kayaking was offered on Lake Superior, expanding the program’s focus to include kayaking. 

Going into its third year, the 2013 I Can Paddle! season was an incredible success with record registrations and attendance.  In conjunction with the 50th Anniversary of State Water Trails system, I Can Paddle! offered more On the River programs than in previous years, all taking place on State Water Trails.  The new Sea Kayaking programs out of Split Rock Lighthouse State Park were very well received with each of the four sessions filling to capacity. 

Programs are offered statewide on some of our state’s most stunning lakes and rivers.  Registration is not yet available for 2014 programs, but keep an eye on our website for schedule announcements and registration information. 

Programs fill fast!  For more information, visit the website, email the program coordinator, or call the DNR Information Center between 8 a.m and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday (888-646-6367).


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Help Us Update Our Outfitters and Organizations Lists

YouTuber, Facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn logos

If you know of any Outfitters that provide shuttle services or canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard rental for use on State Water Trails, please make sure they are listed on our  Outfitters page.  If you know of any groups, clubs, businesses, or organizations that are interested in:


  1. Promoting or monitoring State Water Trails,
  2. Engaging in  State Water Trails stewardship, or  
  3. Simply connecting people to paddling opportunities in or around the state, please make sure they are listed on our State Water Trail Organizations page.

If you have updates or corrections for either of these lists, please let us know!


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Available Grants

American Canoe Association banner with images of flat water, sea, and rapids kayaking

L.L.Bean - Club Fostered Stewardship Grant

Since 2002, the American Canoe Association (ACA) has partnered with L.L. Bean to sponsor the Club Fostered Stewardship (CFS) Program. The CFS Program provides funding to local and regional paddling clubs that undertake stewardship projects on waterways in their area. The purpose of the program is to encourage paddling clubs to take an active role in protecting and improving the nation's rivers, lakes and coastlines. It is not mandatory to be a paddling club to apply. In the past, grants have been awarded to conservation organizations and watershed groups. However, applications that incorporate paddling or cooperation with local paddling organizations will be given priority.  Grant amounts range from $100-$1,000.

2014 CFS Grant Application Packets will be available in January.  See the ACA website for more information.

DNR Water Recreation Cooperative Acquisition & Development Program

The program’s purpose is to improve public boat accesses in Minnesota's public lakes and rivers. Eligible projects include acquisition, development and improvement of public boat accesses, parking lots, docks, and boat launching ramps. Water Trail campsites, rest areas and portages may also be considered.  Engineering and design assistance is available. 

See the DNR website for more information.


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