This year’s St. Croix River Association paddle will take 75 paddlers down 100 miles of the St. Croix over six days in June. Having done the paddle last year (on the Namekagon), I know there’s a special magic in it – the back-to-back days of paddling, the camaraderie, the presentations about nature and history, and the warm welcome from people, businesses and communities along the route.
I sat down with Chris Stein, superintendent of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway to talk about the river, the paddle, and the National Park Service’s role as a steward of the “people’s park.”
SC360: How is the annual SCRA Paddle important to the National Park Service?
Stein: “It’s important to the Riverway first and foremost in connecting people to the river. That is one of our main missions. It also helps us publicize the fact that the river system is protected by the National Park Service.”
SC360: What do you feel is special about the St. Croix River?
Stein: “It’s one of my favorite parks I’ve worked at. You have this incredible natural resource so close to an urban environment – for the lower river – and it is such a clean river. It was also one of the first eight Wild and Scenic Rivers in the United States. Today there are more than Wild and Scenic Rivers, but this was one of the first.”
Stein repeatedly mentioned the river’s cleanliness, and the number of mussel species that can be found here. (The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls it “one of the premier mussel watersheds of the world.”)
SC360: What is special about paddling multiple days in a row on the river?
Stein: “It gets people out there experiencing the river in one of the ways the NPS intended people to see the river. The Park has established campsites within easy paddling distance from each other to make this kind of trip possible.
“If you spend more than one day on the river, you will understand what it is like to be out there away from civilization, and you will enjoy the solitude the Namekagon and St. Croix can provide.”
SC360: What do you hope paddle participants learn about Riverway?
Stein: “That there are in fact relatively pristine rivers left. In the case of the St. Croix that probably would not be the case if it weren’t for the United States Congress back in 1968 recognizing that we need to balance commercially-used rivers with free-flowing, wild rivers.”
SC360: What are some of your favorite parts of the St. Croix?
Stein: “A favorite of mine and a lot of people is the Dalles, that is just such a unique experience along the river, that geologic formation.
“Another spot is in Marine on St. Croix, the trail down to the river behind the General Store, because that’s where I take my kids the most.”
SC360: How does an event like the Paddle contribute to building partnerships?
Stein: “Parks are for the people, number one. The National Park Service is just the steward that makes sure the rules and regulations are followed. It’s important for any park that there are local citizens involved in actively protecting these resources, through contributions, volunteer work, and being better informed.
“The St. Croix River Association recently became the park’s official friends group. The most important thing SCRA can do for the park is not to give us money, though that’s important to do those special projects, but to ‘friend-raise’ for the park. The paddle brings a lot of new faces to the river, to see what an incredible natural treasure this is.”
The 2014 Paddle will happen from June 14 – 20, traveling from Riverside Landing in Danbury, Wisconsin to Somerset, Wisconsin. It is partially supported, meaning SCRA organizes shuttles, hauls your gear, and organizes campsites, some meals, and programs. More information and a link to the registration is available here.