Clean the Croix – July 8

I struggled to keep up with my son as he raced across the slippery stones but was blocked first by a man teetering on one leg, and then by three women holding hands. A girl paused to let me through, but by then I could see that Charlie was already at the other side of the river. “I guess he made it fine without my help,” I called back to her, as I took four last strides to join him.

Stepping across the river at the Mississippi Headwaters in Itasca State Park is a Minnesota tradition.

“You know this isn’t a race,” I scolded, but Charlie wasn’t listening. He was already wading into the water below the rocks, intent on walking down the river as far as he could go. I sighed with exasperation but waded in behind him. Then everyone was in the water walking – me, the dog, my husband, and Charlie in the lead. A few older boys jumped in from the shore, followed by a middle-aged couple, and then another family. The sun was shining, blue-flag iris bloomed along the shore, and schools of fish swam around our calves. Everyone laughed and just enjoyed the moment, walking down the Mississippi River on a sunny summer’s day.

When it starts, the Mississippi River is shallow and clean.

I’ve lived in Minnesota for seventeen years, but have somehow never visited the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park until this past weekend. “Here 1475 ft above the ocean, the mighty Mississippi begins to flow on its winding way 2552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.” We camped 140 miles downriver at Schoolcraft State Park where the river was deeper and wider, but still calm and pristine. It’s hard to believe that by the time it reaches the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi is so polluted that it creates a toxic dead-zone as large as New Jersey. If only we could learn to keep the water clean before we pass it down to the next people in line.

Here at home, I usually choose the St. Croix River over the Mississippi. We stick to the upper reaches, where the water is shallow and you can paddle a canoe or paddleboard without fear of large wakes. Charlie and I make several trips down the river each summer, stopping to explore sandbars and backwater channels along the way. We search for great blue herons, crouch low to see a dragonfly just emerging from its nymph skin, and revel in the peace of a river without signs of human intrusion. Even the St. Croix, however, collects damage as it flows.

The St. Croix River near Wiliam O’Brien State Park is peaceful and calm.

One 4th of July weekend, two years ago, my mom and I decided to canoe a different stretch of the St. Croix River, closer to home. We launched from the Boom Site, just north of Stillwater, with Charlie (then 3) and our dog in tow. A short distance up the river, we stopped to explore the beach along the sandstone bluff at the Boom Site wayside area. The shoreline and nearby islands were packed with boats full of people celebrating the holiday weekend. The cliffs were sprayed with graffiti and garbage littered the shore. I was appalled that people had ruined such a beautiful place.

The beauty of the St. Croix Boom Site, north of Stillwater, has been marred by litter and graffiti.

This Saturday, July 8, the Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District, St. Croix River Association, and Conservation Corps are calling on volunteers and local community members to help “Clean the Croix” during a 2.5 hour volunteer event. Volunteers can choose between three activities: 1) Picking up litter from the shoreline at the Boom Site wayside; 2) Picking up litter from islands between the Boom Site landing and high Bridge (bring your own boat); or 3) Removing invasive species from the Aiple property just north of the Stillwater Depot. The clean-up lasts from 9-11:30am and there will be lunch provided at the end. To learn more and register, go to:

I’ll be leading the crew picking up litter at the Boom Site wayside. Join me on Saturday and help to restore the wonder of the St. Croix.