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.