This is a good year to get to know the National Park in your backyard.
It’s the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, which manages the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers. The Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway requires time to fully appreciate, but the subtle splendor is worth the work.
The scale and beauty of America’s best-known National Parks make it possible to quickly understand why they are beloved and protected. A person can stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and experience immediate awe of its vistas, or schedule a stop at the Old Faithful geyser to see it spout steaming water. Gaze upon Yosemite Valley and see the same majesty that inspired Ansel Adams and John Muir.
But only by floating past miles and miles of unbroken shoreline on the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, watching the clean water, accompanied by many more birds than people, moving at the pace of the current, can one really grasp its grandeur.
The park stretches for about 220 miles, from Stillwater, Minnesota to Solon Springs and Cable, Wisconsin. That is a lot of river, full of wildlife, scenery, history, secret wonders There are rapids and sandbars, eagles and dragonflies, white pines and rushing rills, logging dams and sacred sites.
To celebrate the centennial, the St. Croix River Association is sponsoring the Centennial Paddle Challenge, and they’re giving away a free kayak to one paddler who logs 200 miles this summer. Everyone who completes the challenge will also receive a prize.
The challenge is pretty simple: record your paddle trips between April 22 (Earth Day) and October 1 and send your log to SCRA. A winner will be chosen at random. You can download the log form here.
One local writer is also embarking on a quest to paddle the length of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway. Kyle Weaver, a freelance journalist who frequently writes for the Country Messenger, has embarked on an effort to paddle all 220 miles and write about it for the newspaper.
Since moving to Osceola in 2006 to begin my career in journalism, I have been fascinated with the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers. For quite some time, I have wanted to canoe or kayak the entire river. On several occasions, I toyed with the idea of paddling all 220-plus miles in a single journey. While I have since ruled out that idea as both logistically too difficult and physically too strenuous, I have committed to finally doing it this summer over as many weekends and day trips as it may take. I figure I will need to find at least 17 days to paddle it all, which given my typical summer schedule will be a challenge in its own right.
Kyle kicked off his paddling in chilly spring conditions in mid-April on the upper Namekagon. He wrote:
With air in the high 50s, I slid into the water at Lake Namekagon Dam and immediately turned upstream to get a closer look at the origins of the Namekagon River, where it pours over the dam and turns from a lake to a stream.
I currently live in a house that has a pretty darn good backyard view of the St. Croix River, but I still regard the Namekagon as my home river. Growing up in Spooner, Wis., I’ve spent many summer afternoons on its waters and I still occasionally hunt grouse along its banks with my father. Spending a moment getting a kayak-level view of where this river begins was on my mental checklist.
If you are planning to pursue the challenge and would like to share your adventures, in addition to logging your trips and sending them to SCRA, please contact me at email@example.com.