On a recent Friday afternoon, there were half a dozen trucks with boat trailers and cars with canoe racks parked at Log House Landing in Scandia. One man was loading a solo canoe on his car, shaded by a big white pine.
I parked next to the old stone fireplace, took my kayak off the car, carried it and my gear down the boat launch, and then parked my car on the road up the hill. When I stepped out of the car, I heard the spring-fed creek rushing at the bottom of the mossy, fern-filled ravine which the road follows toward the river.
Old pines and other mature hardwoods form a tunnel over the road as it descends from the bluff. Some of the trees stand 100 feet tall, bigger around at their base than two people can reach. Recently, many of them have sprouted fluttering ribbons, indicating which ones are in the city-owned easement – part of an effort to determine the route of a wider, paved road the city is planning, and which is raising concerns about harm to the St. Croix River and the landing.
Log House is on a beloved stretch of the St. Croix. A short drive from home for many people, this part of the river sees plenty of use and offers abundant beauty and wildness. There’s great fishing, plentiful sandbars and beaches, and high bluffs. Small cabins line the Minnesota banks, while the opposite shore is home only to wildlife like herons and cranes, a deep, dark forest laced with twisting side channels and seeping springs. The landing is somehow a perfect match for this part of the river. It is rustic and rural, well-worn yet steadfast, welcoming but guarded closely by those who love it.
Ten minutes after getting there, I pushed off and paddled toward the backwaters a half-mile upstream. The river was busy with campers, fishermen, paddlers, jumping bass, and Great blue herons.
History of erosion
Anyone who knows Log House knows erosion is an issue. Rain runs down the road, carrying gravel into the gully and the river. The steep and twisting launch ramp almost requires spinning tires to get up it. The road and launch are often rutted after rainstorms.
“The Log House Landing has had a long history of erosion problems that need to be resolved,” mayor Randall Simonson recently told the Pioneer Press. “The ongoing runoff into the river is unacceptable, and we need to address this issue while ensuring the solution provides a safe environment for traffic flow and emergency vehicles.”
So the city has come up with a plan to build a concrete boat ramp, seal coat the access road and add gutters, and build retaining walls and ponds to prevent erosion into the river. The road would be widened to 26 to 34 feet.
Scandia already received a $200,000 state grant to fund half the construction, with the rest of the funds being supplied by the city and the Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District. The city plans to produce designs over the winter, seek construction bids in late winter or early spring, and start work next July.
More harm than good?
The erosion problem is real but the proposal is overkill, says a group of citizens who are asking the city to reconsider. The renovations could mean cutting down some of the big, beloved pines and ruining the rustic, historic character of the landing, argue the Friends of the Log House Landing.
“The city and watershed developed a lower impact plan in 2013 with a much narrower road, but when they learned of available grant money, the plan was changed to conform to Minnesota Department of Transportation park road standards,” group spokesperson Pam Plowman Smith says. The grant application nearly doubled the width of the road and the cost went from about $200,000 to $400,000.
Plowman Smith told the Scandia City Council at its July 15 meeting that removing trees and widening the road will actually create greater runoff and require a more elaborate and expensive drainage system.
The group worries that paving and widening the road will increase traffic speeds and reduce safety. Another concern is that an over developed road and ramp will encourage more and bigger boats on a quiet part of the river, they say.
Seeking a simpler solution
In the wake of the group’s advocacy, the city has begun a survey and tree inventory to better understand what impact the work might have. Those findings are expected in September. The city council also plans to meet with concerned citizens at a September 3 workshop (see below).
In a petition (see below), the Friends of Log House Landing state that no information has yet been gathered to support the cost, scale or complexity of this project, such as analysis of water-quality, erosion impact, traffic statistics, or current and proposed maintenance costs.
“We support improvements to the landing, but we feel there are simpler, less costly alternatives that will preserve its present natural beauty and native ecology,” Friends of Log House Landing spokeswoman Smith told the Pioneer Press.
In an email to St. Croix 360, Smith said the group is working to present better options to the city.
Friends of the Log House Landing started a petition last week and are seeking 500 signatures to encourage the city to “improve the historic Log House Landing in a way that preserves its rustic, secluded and rural character.” They also encourage interested citizens to attend a city council work session on September 3 at 6:30 p.m. when the project will be discussed. They want the city to know there is a strong support for alternative designs.
There were 300 supporters of the petition at the time this article was published. The petition requests include:
- Retain access for small boats, canoes and kayaks
- Reduce taxpayer burden
- Preserve the rustic and rural character of the landing, road, and trees
- Identify and effectively address erosion and water-quality issues
- Modify the project scale to meet Scandia’s Comprehensive Plan goals
- Provide resources to assist the City in collecting data.
- Work with the City to design a more sustainable and ecologically sensitive plan
Petition signers offered many reasons for why the issue is important. “As a neighbor of the landing, its character and the way it is used affect the lives of me and my family directly,” writes Chauncey Anderson. “It’s important that the erosion control measures are done well, but in keeping with the natural setting and appropriate uses of the river.”
“I am a MN state licensed architect and I understand the built environment quite well,” Tod Drescher of Marine on St. Croix comments. “This is a case of over-engineering to attempt solving an erosion issue that other less costly methods could accomplish.”
Rustic and quiet
On my recent trip, after several hours of paddling above the Swing Bridge, swimming, floating, reading on little beaches, I got back to the landing at dusk. Like I’ve been doing for more than a decade, and like many folks have been doing for many more years, I loaded up in the dwindling light. The creek was rushing and the breeze rustling the treetops.
Log House’s simplicity is rare these days, when other landings feel more like the city and less like the river, and often see traffic jams befitting a suburban freeway. Log House is just a landing, and a lot of people hope it stays that way.