While rivers were historically America’s highways – carrying native people, fur traders, explorers, settlers, and logs and loggers – the St. Croix wasn’t reliable enough for transportation as commerce and settlement expanded in the area. So, starting more than a century years ago, the federal government performed some “road construction.”
Today, the St. Croix River appears as largely wild and unaffected by people, but appearances can be deceiving. By 1890, officials reported that “navigation has been rendered permanent where formerly uncertain and in other places been made practicable where before it was impossible.”
Recently, when some old dams were studied by the National Park Service, the hypothesis that they were related to logging was quickly disproved. Researchers found their way to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There, they turned up information about projects to maintain a channel three feet deep from Taylors Falls to the Mississippi River.
After surveying the river in 1874, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers set out to remove snags, stumps, rocks, and other debris from the river. They also reinforced eroding banks on bends. Preliminary research has indicated that these changes were significant and long-lasting.
Signs of these modifications are still visible today. Islands were erased, sloughs dredged, wing dams were built, and a significant amount of soil removed. Archaeologists will spend this summer trying to document the structures still in the river today.
Jean Schaeppi-Anderson, Cultural Resource Specialist for St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, recently spoke about what we are learning about this project, and how it continues to affect the river today. You can watch her presentation below:
The event was part of the St. Croix River Association’s Brown Bag Lunch Forum series. The next presentation is April 8th, covering “trends in forest land cover, its link to water quality, and the up-and-coming threats to maintaining and protecting these important landscapes.” Details are available at this link.