A River Unites

Community Celebration – Saturday, Sept. 18 at Brown’s Creek Park

Deep in the forest of northern Minnesota, past Paul Bunyan and his trusty ox Babe, over the hills and just beyond the supper clubs and bars with wood-paneled walls, you’ll find Itasca State Park. “Here 1475 feet above the ocean, the mighty Mississippi begins to flow on its winding way 2552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.” There, surrounded by 32,000 acres of virgin pine forest, a stitch holds the end of a thread that connects forest, farm, riverboat and bayou – ten states and thousands of stories.

Lake Itasca, headwaters of the Mississippi River – September, 2021

After seeing photos that I took during a recent trip to Itasca, my dad sent over a collection of old photos his family took when they visited back in the early 1950s. The world may have changed dramatically since then, but Lake Itasca and the river appear exactly the same.

Goodrich Family at Lake Itasca – circa 1950

Though rivers have long been used as borders to divide one group of people from another, it also strikes me that they have the power to bring us together as well. One of my favorite parts of visiting the headwaters is sharing stories with other people who are there. “I grew up on the river in St Louis,” remarked one women I met at Itasca. “I never thought I’d see the place where the river begins.”

Around us, snippets of similar conversation floated by from others in the crowd.

“We had a farm near the river in Iowa.”

“We came up from Tennessee to see the place where the river begins.”

A display at Itasca State Park shows the breadth of the Mississippi River system in North America.

The headwaters region is home to the White Earth, Red Lake and Leech Lake Bands of Ojibwe, who arrived in what is now known as Minnesota after following a vision that told them to search for their homeland in a place “where the food floats on water.”

The river and its myriad connected lakes and wetlands sustain a rich network of life that includes moose and bears, bald eagles, fish, towering pines, and shimmering wild rice. Further south, the Mississippi is the source of drinking water for more than 50 cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The Mississippi River flows through downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul and provides drinking water for both cities.

Closer to home, the rivers and streams of the St. Croix watershed have the power to bring us together as well. When the Brown’s Creek Trail was opened in 2014, it created a connection that suddenly allowed people to interact with the stream in a way most hadn’t been able to before. Now, one can ride through the deep, cool shade of the gorge and pause to admire the old stone arch bridge that once carried horse and carriage along the Military Road.

Brown’s Creek connects communities from Withrow to Stillwater and binds together a network of lakes and wetlands that support fish and turtles, waterfowl, deer, and dragonflies. It is one of many threads that ties us to the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers as well.

This Saturday, Brown’s Creek Watershed District will host a community celebration at Brown’s Creek Park in Stillwater from 10am-1pm. Events will include games and prizes; live fish and aquatic invertebrates from Brown’s Creek; live snakes, turtles and frogs; live music; fly tying and casting demos; native plants; and a honeybee hive demonstration. The goal is to celebrate recent projects to protect and improve local lakes and streams and to enjoy the many ways that water brings us together.

Brown’s Creek Park is located at the southwest corner of Neal and McKusick Rd in Stillwater, along the Brown’s Creek Trail. There are also nature trails for exploring the nearby woods and pocket prairies. This Saturday’s event is free.