It’s been a big year on st. Croix 360. I didn’t realize how big until I looked back over what we posted and what got read in 2014. We shared several stories that had not been previously reported, and in particular went in-depth on developments in conservation efforts. (One more is coming tomorrow.) It’s clear that stories not being reported anywhere else are of the utmost interest, based on the numbers.
But I hate to get too hung up on numbers. What I’m most proud of is the steady stream of information we published, communicating about one of the country’s greatest rivers to many thousands of interested folks. St. Croix 360 seeks to be a trusted source about everything from art and boating to science and stewardship, and we can sense the need for such a source every time we share an interesting story.
While we’re on the topic, what stories would you like to see more coverage of in 2015? Feel free to provide any other constructive feedback about St. Croix 360 in the comments, or drop me an email.
Thank you so much for reading. The St. Croix is a great river, and every year I learn how many people love it and care about its future.
Happy New Year,
Editor, St. Croix 360
Without further ado, let’s start counting down to the most popular article this year (and actually, of all time)…
10.) Invasive Carp Found Near St. Croix River (July)
A few bighead carp have been found in the St. Croix and upper Misssissippi Rivers before, but this summer marked the first official discovery of a silver carp – the species notorious for flying out of the water en masse when disturbed by motorboats. It wasn’t in the St. Croix, but a little ways up the Mississippi, above the St. Croix’s mouth.
If that fish had taken a right turn at Prescott, it could be laying eggs and leaping out of Lake St. Croix next spring.
This public warning by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation seemed to have the opposite effect of what it intended. Rockhounds had been drawn to the massive excavation work on the Wisconsin side, where all that digging had enticed them with ideas of finding the precious gems.
While it’s clearly unsafe to be wandering around a construction site, by warning the public away from the site, it seemed to only publicize the opportunity further.
8.) Settlement Reached in Grantsburg Frac Sand Mine Spill (January)
The companies responsible for discharging fine sediment into the upper St. Croix River in 2012 were fined about $80,000 last January. The Wisconsin attorney general cited the only frac sand mine on the river for failing to properly maintain containment dikes around settling ponds, and for discharging fine sediment into a creek, wetland and the St. Croix.
Dikes around one settling pond failed on or before April 22, 2012 and the spill continued for at least five days. The spill was a “significant contributor of pollutants” to the waterways, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“March 4, 2014, with nearly a meter of snow covering the sedge marshes and black ash forest lowlands, I set out in snowshoes to see what I could find.” – Brian Collins
What Collins found was trumpeter swans enjoying a patch of open water, a curious coyote who briefly gave them a chase, and a feeling of the wild winter character of the upper St. Croix. Luckily for the rest of us, he made a wonderful video of the outing.
Brian also shared his thoughts about winter on the river, conservation, and other topics in an interview with St. Croix 360.
6.) New ‘Whey’ Forward for Clean Water (January)
Every day at cheese factories in northwestern Wisconsin, tanker trucks haul away thousands of gallons of wastewater. Much of it is taken to nearby farms, where it is sprayed across the fields as fertilizer. The waste is high in nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen. If it runs off the fields into nearby lakes and rivers, it can cause unhealthy amounts of algae in the water.
GreenWhey Energy, a new company in Turtle Lake, is now taking some of that waste, removing much of the harmful material, and using it to generate electricity.
Readers may recall that the high water lasted into mid-summer this year. A no-wake zone was in effect on the lower St. Croix through the Fourth of July.
Say what you will about the tenets of drones, this one gave viewers a unique look at the flooding in late June, when the Stillwater Lift Bridge was closed to traffic as water lapped at its deck.
4.) Invasive Bighead Carp Found At Mouth Of St. Croix River (September)
Big, ugly and bad news for boaters, anglers, and native ecosystems.
A bighead carp — which does not leap from the water like silver carp but can destroy fisheries by out-eating native fish — had been found before at the same location near Prescott, but this was one more ominous development as the fish threaten to establish breeding populations in the lower river.
3.) Prehistoric Pottery Links St. Croix’s Past and Present (January)
About 700 years ago, someone from a village of Native American people we call the Oneota went down to the St. Croix River near present-day Marine on St. Croix and gathered mussel shells. They ground the shells into a powder, mixed it with clay, and created pottery which was used for storing food or cooking.
In the summer of 2014, archaeologists from the Science Museum of Minnesota studied the site, carefully excavating what were believed to be refuse pits and shelters.
The story made beautiful connections between the past and present, including the river’s continued importance as mussel habitat, and the ongoing tradition of functional pottery.
2.) A Cautionary St. Croix Tale (October)
Two hapless paddlers ran into wind, lack of common sense, and the law on an ill-fated upper river canoe trip. Thankfully, a local fisherman managed to help the men, not once but twice, first by retrieving their lost canoe and later by towing one of the men back to the landing as he battled a stiff headwind.
It’s okay to laugh a little because they made it off the river safely, although one went back to jail. A story just made for the internet.
This was the most most popular article published on St. Croix 360 since the site’s launch in 2011. “Oil & Water” squeaked by the previous record holder for online reads, the May 2012 article about the Grantsburg sand mine spill, although that post mostly aggregating information from local newspapers.
The pattern was reversed for the story of Line 61, with at least three of the affected area’s newspapers, with combined circulation of more than 15,000, republishing St. Croix 360’s lengthy article. It was the kind of reporting and writing that most reporters at small newspapers may not have time to do, and at 3,000 words it took a lot of ink, but it needed to be told. Thanks to Gary King at the Inter-County Leader and Holly Snyder at the Spooner Advocate for helping get this story out to a broader audience.
The article largely focused on the lack of transparency in the environmental review process and poor communication with the public as the pipeline has been developed during the past decade. Reaction to the article reinforced those points: the most common reaction to the story was “I had no idea.”
I am happy to report that efforts are afoot to get Enbridge and river advocates talking, hopefully there will be more to say about that soon.
There are additional angles that I intend to explore in follow-up posts, like why in-depth environmental review was never required, Enbridge’s safety record aside from the Kalamazoo spill, and Line 61’s context in the pipeline system around the Great Lakes.
As President Lyndon Johnson said in 1968: “An unspoiled river is a very rare thing in this Nation today.” Four decades more rare today.