Music, poetry, birdsong and green leaves at O’Brien

Spring has finally sprung and a party at William O’Brien State Park, with music and poetry, was a good excuse to get to the river.




3 minute read

Spring green on the St. Croix
Spring green on the St. Croix

It was a sunny day yesterday, with puffy clouds above and the faint green haze on the trees growing stronger. Another spring had arrived at William O’Brien State Park, but this year there was a little more park than in the past.

The O’Bigger, O’Better, O’Brien event, sponsored by the Parks & Trails Council, celebrated 97 acres of new land which were recently added to the park, thanks to a collaboration between Parks & Trails, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Grant family, who had owned the land since 1940, the Pioneer Press reported:

The property includes springs, streams, ponds, prairie, woods, wetlands and fens. Hendrie Grant, a St. Paul ophthalmologist and fly fisherman, bought the land in 1940 because of its trout ponds and its proximity to the St. Croix River, said his daughter-in-law Joan Grant.

The land was passed down through the generations until last year, when members of the Grant family decided to sell 97 acres of it for $1.26 million to the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.

The council is in the process of selling the land to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for inclusion in William O’Brien State Park.

The day’s events included a wildflower hike, a canoe trip down to the park from Osceola, and activities for kids, including fishing. Toward the end of the day, The Roe Family Singers, a bluegrass and old-time music six-piece, played in front of the picnic shelter, near the park’s boat launch, to a small audience scattered at picnic tables in the grass, soaking up the spring sun.

Roe Family Singers at William O'Brien State Park
Roe Family Singers at William O'Brien State Park

The band is made of up of husband and wife Quillan and Kim Roe and has played a weekly Monday night gig at the 331 Club in Minneapolis since 2005. They were recently awarded a $25,000 McKnight Fellowship, given to only four artists a year, and for which 110 artists applied this year.

The band left the stage at 3 p.m., reluctantly it seemed. The crowd dwindled some before Carol Cauoutte and Laurie Allman started. The pair have collaborated on an artistic celebration of the St. Croix River, titled “River Croix.” Allman has written a poem — with an appreciation for names of the 28 species of mussels that inhabit the river — and Cauoette has written a piece for piano and voice that paints a picture of how the river unifies everyone who lives near it.

Carol Caouette and Laurie Allman performing "River Croix"
Carol Caouette (l) and Laurie Allman performing "River Croix"

The pair have recently set up a special fund at the St. Croix Valley Foundation, to which all proceeds from the sale of their CD go:

Contributions made to this fund benefit St. Croix River protection causes and organizations based in Minnesota and Wisconsin, in particular those that result in tangible, measurable, and meaningful positive impacts, as guided by the question “Will the river know the difference?”

It was very quiet as they performed, with just the sound of the breeze in the tree tops and sporadic, joyous, bird song punctuating the song and poem. The river water a hundred yards behind the stage was receding from its flood. The valley will be green again soon and many people will move from watching its current from the banks to getting on, or in, the water.

The St. Croix at William O'Brien State Park