Enjoying the St. Croix River and working to keep it clean

An adventure inspires river reciprocity, and a call to action.




4 minute read

Picture, if you will, a woman serenely paddling down the St. Croix River on a standup paddleboard with a boy and a dog balanced on either end. The sun is warm, the water is calm, and all is right with the world.

Level: Expert
Total time to complete: 5 hours

Step 1: Pack your car the night before. (No – you don’t need a truck.)

Step 2: Drop off two bikes and two helmets at the take-out, William O’Brien State Park.

Step 3: Drive to Log Cabin Landing in Scandia. Inflate standup paddleboard. Climb aboard with kid and dog. Paddle.

Step 4: Stop at a partially submerged island to play for a while.

Step 5: Paddle the remainder of the way to William O’Brien. Deflate standup paddleboard and stash gear in the tall grass.

Step 6: Climb aboard the two bikes. Grab dog leash. Peddleback to the car with dog running alongside. Do not fall off yourbike.

Step 7: Celebrate a successful journey!

There are lost arts in life that I’m striving to maintain. The aptitude to waste a summer’s day floating down a river without cell phones, iPods or GPS is one. The art of making a whistle from a blade of grass is another. So too is the ability to walk to a friend’s house, knock on the door, and ask, “Can you come out and play?” 

The St. Croix is a treasure in my backyard and it beckons me to live out childhood dreams of rafting down the river like Huckleberry Finn. There are islands owned by nobody, where one can rest a while, follow deer-tracks through the sand, or lay back and watch the dragonflies dance. It’s a wide-open swath of water and woods, where I can sing out loud as I paddle on by and no one but squirrels might hear me.

Indeed, the St. Croix River offers myriad experiences to valley residents and visitors alike. There are stretches wide and deep where yachts and riverboats reign and others where the water is so shallow it’s easier to wade. The river supports small towns, local tourism, and a vibrant arts community. It is home to 40 species of mussels, five of which are on the endangered species list, 111 species of fish, and 320 species of birds, 60 of which are species of greatest conservation need.

The river offers these gifts freely, but what do we give in return? Too often, our offerings include sediment from farm fields, cigarette butts tossed in the street, and sometimes strands of fishing line left strewn across a beach.

This Saturday, July 27, the St. Croix River Association calls on St. Croix Valley visitors and residents to participate in a watershed-wide river cleanup to help clean up litter in the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers. As a bonus, the organization offers a chance to win river-inspired prizes to anyone who submits photos from their efforts to info@scramail.com by Aug. 1. Categories for the contest include largest single item; most unusual and/or interesting object; and largest volume of trash taken out of the river.

On Saturday, September 7, Community Thread will also host its annual River Rally, in partnership with the National Park Service, MN Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Conservation District. Volunteers will help to collect litter, cut down invasive buckthorn, and stencil city storm drains. More info coming soon at communitythreadmn.org/river-rally.

In Stillwater, volunteers are also working with the city and Sustainable Stillwater MN to stencil storm drains in downtown with an educational message, “No Dumping. Drains to river.” In addition, volunteers are talking to local businesses about sweeping up litter outside their buildings and are exploring the possibility of installing cigarette butt canisters in some locations.

Regardless of whether you live in town or out in the country, there are several additional ways that you can help to protect the St. Croix River and area lakes.

The St. Croix River is calling. Grab your boat, bike, raft or hiking shoes and answer.


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If you have any questions, please email greg@stcroix360.com


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Enjoying the St. Croix River and working to keep it clean