William and Kate’s wedding in Lanesboro

Grab your hat, ladies, because we’re heading to the Royal Wedding. Sure, the real wedding of William and Kate has long since passed, but we didn’t get invited, so we’ll have to make our own fun. There’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars on your new headware, though. A hot glue gun and a quick trip to the craft store will have you looking fancy in no time.

Royal Wedding procession on the Root River

If you’re going to get dolled up in your fascinator and tea gloves, I find it’s best to go someplace off the beaten track where you won’t be held in comparison with people that actually dress that way. A small town like Lanesboro, Minnesota is ideal, and I’ve found folks down there to be big fans of ladies in fancy hats. Why, just this past weekend, my friends and I made our grand entrance at the Sylvan Campground before heading out for a day of canoeing on the Root River. Throughout the weekend, we made so many new friends that we didn’t even mind missing the real wedding.

While canoeing on a fine stretch of water like the Root River, one has plenty of time to contemplate the scenery, both inside and outside the boat. Located in the far southeastern corner of Minnesota, the river lures in thousands of tourists each year. Some choose to explore the area by canoe or inflatable tube, while others rent or bring bicycles along to ride the nearby trail. The river itself is just over 80 miles long and winds lazily through a heavily agricultural area before reaching the more wooded, rolling karst terrain of the Driftless Region. Here, dozens of groundwater fed trout streams crisscross its pathway as well. The Root River supports brown trout, brook trout and small mouth bass, as well as swallows, red tailed hawks and bald eagles.

Unfortunately, as my ladies and I discovered during our trip, the scenery outside our canoes was not always in keeping with what one would expect during a royal procession. In many places along the route, the streambank was severely eroded, with bare dirt clinging precariously to deeply gouged river walls. The water in the river was muddy from all this eroded soil, and in places were the current was slow it seemed particularly unwelcoming to the would-be swimmer.

Not surprisingly, it turns out that much of the river has been designated as impaired for turbidity, which is another way of saying that the water is not as clear as it should be. This turbidity prevents good aquatic plants from growing, clogs fish gills, damages spawning habitat and makes it difficult for animals that live in the river to find food. Currently, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is working with the Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture to figure out why the Root River has become so polluted and how to clean it up. So far they have identified several sources of pollution, including stream bank and farm field erosion and stormwater runoff from small cities in the area.

Planting wider buffers of native plants along the banks of the Root River will help somewhat, but to really clean up the river, farmers and local residents will also have to find ways to keep more water on the landscape, so that every rainstorm doesn’t send a massive torrent of water to the river. In the communities, this might mean more raingardens and retention areas, while in the farm fields it might mean that farmers let some of their wetter areas become wetlands again.

My friends and I had so much fun paddling the Root River and bringing good British style to Lanesboro, and given the grand impression we made, I wouldn’t be surprised if other visitors start showing up in full regalia soon. It seems a shame to let a perfectly good river go down without a fight, especially when it brings so much tourist revenue to the region. I tip my hat to the folks already working on a plan to save the Root River and hope that their efforts pay off so that in years to come, elegant ladies like us will find cleaner water to canoe upon.