Boat show brings wooden watercraft to Marine on St. Croix

Event on July 12 celebrates long tradition of wooden canoes and other handmade craft along the St. Croix River.




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“In July I started up the St. Croix river with Joseph Brewster, in a batteau, to put up hay for Elam Greely on Kanabec river. We poled our batteau with outfit and camped where now stands the village of Franconia. The next morning early we entered the picturesque Dalles of the St. Croix, than cordelled our boat over Baker’s falls, and landed at the village of St. Croix Falls.”

– W.H.C. Folsom, Stillwater, 1846

An idea to show off a few cool wooden canoes in Marine on St. Croix has become a bigger deal than anyone expected. The second annual Paddle Craft Show next week will build on a successful first event last year, which drew a surprising number of boats and people.

The thought first occurred to Marine resident Bill Simpson in 2019, as he realized several people in the community had unique watercraft. Nothing happened in 2020 because of COVID, but last July it kicked off with a big crowd and an array of interesting craft.

“All of a sudden, 10 or 15 canoes turned into 50 or 60, and 150 people came from all over,” Simpson says. He credits Marine’s mayor, Kevin Nyenhuis, for taking the idea and running with it. Another friend, Curt Moe, also got involved.

Next week’s event will add displays from two Minnesota nonprofits: Wilderness Inquiry will have two of its 26-foot cedar strip voyageur canoes, and the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness will offer portaging lessons. Additionally, Nyenhuis will be demonstrating bent shaft paddle-making, a course he teaches through the Marine Mills Folk School. St. Croix 360 will also be there, please stop at our table and say hello! We should have some fun stuff to give away. I will also be reading a few words during the spoken word program.

Celebrating wooden boats simply makes sense on the banks of the St. Croix River. People have likely built canoes and paddled the river and its tributaries for thousands of years. In recent centuries, Muller Boat Works started building wooden watercraft in Stillwater in 1872, which continued for five generations. The organizers expect at least 50 boats from across a broad span of time at this year’s show.

“The goal is to create an appreciation of unique and historic watercraft,” Simpson says.

In the 1970s, canoeing again became especially popular thanks to the Minnesota Canoe Association. Simpson was involved in the young organization when it was very active, its members building boats and hosting races and other events. He says the solo canoeing state championship race was annually held on the stretch of the St. Croix between Osceola and Marine. There was also a Fourth of July canoe race and other events.

Simpson likes wooden boats, especially handmade ones, because each one is unique. At last year’s show, the watercraft spanned the spectrum from sleek racing canoes built by Minnesota’s Gene Jensen, one of the most famous canoe builders in the world, as well as a birchbark canoe owned by polar explorer Ann Bancroft. There was also a 30-foot replica batteau built by Marine on St. Croix resident Mike Tibbets.

Batteau are narrow flat-bottomed craft that were widely used on the St. Croix River during the logging and settlement era. They could navigate tight turns and weave through floating logs, float in pretty shallow water, and carry freight and passengers. They were usually poled up and down the river. Tibbets and friends visited the Washington County Historical Society to view and measure a historic batteau in the organization’s collection, and then built one based on the design.

The Paddle Craft Wooden Boat Show is intended to also bring visitors to Marine on what might be an otherwise quiet week night. The nearby Brookside Bar & Grill is open for food and drink, the Marine General Store has a wide selection including a deli, and Nita Mae’s Scoop will be dishing up ice cream. Grills will be provided in the park for anyone wanting to enjoy a picnic dinner.

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Boat show brings wooden watercraft to Marine on St. Croix