Deputies rescue river paddlers, give credit for taking precautions

Group stranded by darkness and low water get out of situation with a little help from officers.




3 minute read

Upper St. Croix River just below confluence of Kettle River Slough. (Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)

Some canoeists had difficulty on the upper St. Croix recently, and were extracted with help from local law enforcement. The Pine County Sheriff says the rescue went smoothly, in part because the group had taken a few simple precautions.

As darkness fell on August 21, after some 20 miles of paddling from Thayers Landing, the group encountered trouble. They were running behind schedule, the water was lower than expected, and they had been delayed by a capsized canoe.

“Four people stopped and did not want to travel anymore in the dark,” said Pine County Sheriff Jeff Nelson. “The five that made it to their end point said the water was decent between them, but the others were done and would not travel on.”

The four stranded paddlers were on the island at the confluence of the St. Croix and Kettle Rivers. It is near the bottom of a long set of rocky rapids that must have challenged the paddlers. Though there was only about three miles to their planned take-out at the Snake River Landing, they likely did not know most of it was flatter and less rocky. Surrounded by fast water and unsure what to do, they called for help.

The Pine County Sheriff got the call at 9:03 p.m. and dispatched deputies. They also called for help from the Burnett County Sheriff, which has jurisdiction across the river, and from a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter. The helicopter was able to locate the paddlers, but deputies were still left to get them out on foot.

“As you might imagine our options for accessing them are limited in this situation,” Nelson said. “We do not have a watercraft that we can send out in the dark in low water conditions unless it is an emergency. With the information we had, the options were to spend the night under the stars or do what we did. Fortunately, they were able to walk and canoe out.”

Ultimately, one half of the stranded group was able to cross the river to the Minnesota side, where they met deputies for an approximately two-mile, “brushy,” walk out on Chengwatana State Forest ATV trails. The other pair canoed a short ways downstream to the Wisconsin side, where a short walking trail connects to a road. Deputies met them and helped reunite the full group about 1:30 a.m.

Nelson said the situation could have ended worse, but didn’t, because of the group’s precautions.

“A good reminder that even short, easy trips can go badly,” he said. “Having plans and resources in place helps a lot.”

To that end, Nelson said the group had several things going for them. They likely would have been fine if they had to spend the night on the island.

“They did have a way of starting a fire, they had a dry, working cell phone, they stayed in a group, they did not panic, they picked a warm day,” Nelson said.


6 responses to “Deputies rescue river paddlers, give credit for taking precautions”

  1. Jon Avatar

    They had to be helicoptered out…

    1. Greg Seitz Avatar

      Not according to the Pine County Sheriff!

  2. Jeff Butler - Former Ranger Avatar
    Jeff Butler – Former Ranger

    That’s a beautiful campsite to spend the night or 3!
    It’s a River Adventure – don’t panic, stay together and just enjoy another night under the stars!

  3. Chas W Salmen Avatar
    Chas W Salmen

    Thanks for recounting this journey for others. Days are getting shorter and 20+ miles of canoeing can be draining- even for experienced canoeists. Mix in the low water rock-scraping experience at St. Croix\Kettle River confluence and the rear contingent was wise to seek terra firm and assistance. Always good idea to have a lead and last experienced conoeist in a diverse group…perhaps that was the case and thus the favorable outcome.

  4. Mary Jo Reiter Avatar
    Mary Jo Reiter

    It was fall and my eighty six year old partner and I were stranded on our cruiser north of Stillwater. All efforts to get the boat off failed. We called the Washington County sheriffs office and she refused to help and said just stay on the boat all night. That’s it. We called to our Sunnyside marina and they refused help and had no suggestions. We tried to sleep on the boat but had no blankets and were very cold. I am a diabetic and had no access to my insulin. Nor was there any food on the boat. The next morning my partner hailed a fishing boat who took us near shore in the wilderness and one of them carried me to safety. My partner walked in the cold water. We set out for Stillwater by foot as we had no one to pick us up. About an hour later we arrived at the Wolf marina too exhausted to go on. Eventually we got a cab to take us to the Sunnyside marina where we have a condo. But how to get our boat back? My partner had to call a private business in Red wing to come and pull the boat off the sand bar. And the interesting thing is the sheriff keeps a boat docked at Sunnyside. Very traumatic episode for us as well as damage to the bottom of the boat and to the steering mechanism.

  5. Glen Nelson Avatar
    Glen Nelson

    We did that segment 3 years ago yesterday, reached the out point at 11 PM. The owls were very active as night set in. Water was low in a few spots and there is not much refractive night lighting. A great experience.


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Deputies rescue river paddlers, give credit for taking precautions