“The impeded stream is the one that sings.” – Wendell Berry
The stretch of river we paddled from St. Croix State Park to Highway 70 is one of the prettiest and wildest sections of the river. It features the greatest fast water (not really worth calling rapids) and is surrounded on all sides by big swaths of undeveloped public land.
There’s the state park, which continued for miles and miles of our morning, just when you thought maybe we’d left its reaches, another yellow sign stuck in the bank would say otherwise. Below the park on the Minnesota side is Chengwatana State Forest, at 30,000 acres nearly as big as the park.
On the Wisconsin side is Governor Knowles State Forest. Named after St. Croix watershed native son and conservation stalwart Warren Knowles, it adjoins the 30,000-acre wildlife paradise Crex Meadows.
I think I’ve made my point.
The birds clearly loved the section. We were greeted by two trumpeter swans flying upriver in close formation within the first mile. Songbirds sang from both banks all day. I was with Jim again, and he named the songs of red-eyed vireos, scarlet tanagers, a cuckoo, song sparrows, and many more.
There was no wind all day, the skies were blue except for high clouds called mare’s tails, and later puffy white clouds. In the midst of the fast section, a couple pine-studded points on the Wisconsin side looked familiar. My dog and I had snowshoed down here one afternoon last winter, admiring a spring creek spilling into the ice-covered river, with a pretty pine-studded point downstream. I paddled a ways hugging that shoreline, trying to find the spot, but failed. It looks a lot different in the green summer.
At midday I ate lunch on a big boulder, surely left there by the glaciers, perched just below the confluence of the Kettle River Slough with the St. Croix. We watched many of our paddling companions pass by, bouncing down the last bumpy water.
Just below that, National Park Service ranger Jean Van Tatenhove led a short hike up the buggy bluff and into the woods to visit the century-old ruins of a paint mine. Your blogging correspondent was perhaps intimidated by the swarms of mosquitoes that seemed unfazed by DEET, but joined the walk so he could report back. About 15 others braved by the bugs without the blogging obligation.
I was itching and scratching by the time I sprinted out of the woods and back to the water 15 minutes later, but worth it. An early European visitor to the area had found interesting mineral deposits here in the years before the Civil War, and always dreamed of them making him rich. It wasn’t until decades later that he opened the mine, which eventually had a three-story factory making paint that was perhaps too good. It dried so hard and lasted so long that they didn’t get many repeat customers. Today, a water wheel and a few timbers lay in a little creek, and some stone-paved road and a wall mark the site of his ambitions.
The last several miles passed pleasantly. The river slowed a little, we passed through the Sandrock Cliffs channel, and arrived at a state forest campground where the sun was beating down and the wonderful people of the Grantsburg Track and Field team grilled us delicious chicken sandwiches and even made an ice cream run. Go Pirates!
Today we have another 18 miles of beautiful river to Wild River State Park.