Andrew Carlson, River Rat
We are river people. This is one of my favorite descriptions of my family. For me personally the
St. Croix River is home. I was blessed to grow up with the Saint Croix National Scenic River as my
backyard. I could not begin to count the hours and days spent exploring its waters, banks, bluffs and
surrounding woods. Russell Pederson, a songwriter friend of mine, perfectly summed up my feelings
toward the river with a song he wrote for his band Horseshoes & Hand Grenades entitled “River Rat.”
Its chorus sings, “Now I want to be a River Rat, live all of my years on the Croix. And I make my home
where the rivers do roam and draw life from the waters beneath.” My life has been full of “River Rat”
tales and as I raise a family of my own my intent is to pass on a love for outdoor adventures to my
children so that it can always be said of my family that we are river people.
My family’s, property affectionately referred to as “Riverwood”, runs along the river bluff on the
Minnesota side of the St. Croix, across from Osceola, Wisconsin. One summer afternoon when I was
about 14 years old, I was home alone left to my own devices. Like most of my childhood, I chose a hike
through the woods near the drop off in search of something new. I stumbled upon a fishing line with an
old rusty hook still attached. Being one to never miss an opportunity I considered this a sign that today
was a day to do some fishing. Without missing a beat, I grabbed the old line, which was about 5 feet
long and began the descent straight down to the River’s backwater immediately behind my parents’
house. Going down is easy, so it only took me a few minutes to be at the shore of a peaceful beaver’s
pond that seemed to be bursting with life. With ducks splashing, beaver tails pounding and birds
singing, it felt magically alive. With my bare hands, I dug a small hole and quickly found a worm that I
slid onto that old rusty hook. My intention was to make a rod from a fallen branch, but before I even
had a chance, I felt the need to drop the line into the water. With no expectations, I nonchalantly
lowered the hook, holding the line in my bare hands. Incredibly the very instant the worm breached the
water, a bass charged the surface, its mouth engulfing the hook and latched on. Startled, I nearly fell
backwards. Somehow I managed to hold that short line and pulled in my remarkable catch.
Now my heart was pounding. How could such a place exist? I had discovered a private,
completely secluded fishing hole so rich with life that a simple worm and hook need not even drop one
inch into its waters to catch a fish. This was too great to keep to myself. I needed to share this discovery
and now. I spun around and sprinted up the bluff as quickly as I could. Coming down is one thing,
running up as another. Even at a sprint and fueled with overwhelming excitement, it takes 20 minutes
to reach the top. Another 100 yards and I was back at my house. Covered in scratches and dirt, I ran
inside and started dialing the phone numbers of all my friends. For 10 minutes I tried to get someone,
anyone, to answer but to no avail. Feeling a bit frustrated but not a little less excited, I decided I needed
to go back alone but this time with proper equipment. I gathered 2 poles, tackle, buckets, nets, worms,
everything I could think of and headed back into the woods and down to the water.
(Excerpted from a piece I did for the “ValleyWire” awhile ago:
There is an old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt”. This saying came to mind recently as I was thinking about how many in this area are surprisingly ambivalent about some of the treasures found here. Contempt, of course, is actually too strong a word, the problem with old sayings being that they frequently rely on traditional usage rather than accuracy. “Familiarity breeds apathy” would be far more accurate, but alas, it is not an old saying.
Be that as it may, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is one of those local treasures that many locals simply overlook. If you were to ask someone from the area where the closest National Park was, chances are you might get a blank look. Some might suggest either Voyagers National Park in Northern Minnesota or the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior, but very few would likely mention the riverway, even though thousands cross it everyday.
The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is truly a treasure. Comprised of the Namekagon and St. Croix rivers, it stretches for 255 miles from Lake Namekagon North of Hayward Wisconsin to Prescott, Wisconsin, where the St. Croix joins the Mississippi. A large section of the St. Croix serves as the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
I have always loved the riverway, having navigated almost all of it at one point or another, but I am especially partial to a particular stretch of the lower Namekagon, from County K landing near Trego to McDowell Bridge Landing. I have lead more than 30 excursions on this stretch, with various youth and family groups, but the most notable group has been the annual father’s day weekend canoe trip.
The Father’s Day weekend Canoe Trip started as an idea among several of my friends to get some “bonding” time with our sons. The first trip took place when my son Joel was 7 and my son Andrew was 5. Looking back, I marvel at how brave (foolish?) I was to attempt such a feat. Proper canoeing technique calls for a steady and balanced approach. A heavily laden, top-heavy craft with two squirming boys should have been a recipe for disaster. Instead, it was the beginning of a cherished tradition that continues to thrive and include many from our family, personal and professional circles.
There are a variety of ways to approach a trip on the Namekagon. Novices might like to consider a day trip. There are several outfitters in the area who rent canoes and provide shuttle service. My favorite stretch for such a trip is to put in at County K Landing and pull out at Whispering Pines Landing. The river current moves canoes along at a steady pace, and even without paddling the distance can be covered in about 3 hours. There are plenty of places to stop for lunch, and there is even a short stretch of Class 1 rapids. (Don’t let the word “rapids” alarm you, Class “1” is the mildest possible rapid. I don’t even refer to it that way, I like to call it “interesting canoeing”)
For those type “A” personalities (You know who you are!) who are obsessed with distance, consider putting in at County K and pulling out at Riverside, a 3 or 4 day trip. Hard core canoeing enthusiasts might want to consider venturing all the way down to the Lion’s Club Park in St. Croix Falls, which can take 5 or more days, depending on your pace.
I personally prefer a more leisurely pace, allowing the river to unfold before me as I venture down. The Namekagon meanders extensively, and each bend offers the promise of something new. A slow pace allows for frequent wildlife sighting including birds such as bald eagles, blue heron, osprey and mergansers, as well as otter, muskrat, beaver and deer. One of my favorite memories was coming around a bend and seeing about 10 deer frolicking in shallow water. On sunny days, it is not uncommon to see dozens of turtles sunning themselves on rocks and overhanging branches.
Our opening weekend has gone well despite the slightly cool temperatures. We had a great group of 9th grade students from Chicago, here for a 2 week service project helping out our friends Richard and Christine at Community Homestead. All 30 of them made it in very good time, as the river is quite high and the current is fairly fast.
We are looking forward to several shuttles tomorrow (Still room if anyone is looking for some Memorial Day Relaxation) with service resuming next weekend. My last day of school is June 7th, so on June 8th we begin daily shuttles.
As I was driving through the Wisconsin Interstate Park today I was pleased to see that the great Blue Herons who nest there are back in full force. Mind, I did not actually SEE and actual Blue Heron, however, I know they are nesting because they choose the tops of tall white pine that just happen to be located directly above the park road we drive on to get to the launch point. Even though the nests are too high for me to see from the van, the locations of the nests are obvious if you look for the large white spots on the blacktop! 🙂 I counted at least 5 nests (up from 3 last year).
What a blessing to have grown up here in this beautiful treasure!
In case anyone is wondering what keeps me busy in the off-season, here’s a peek at my other passion; theatre. The last 8 weeks have been a whirl wind of preparation for the OHS Drama Club’s spring production of JOseph Kesselring’s Arsenic and Old Lace. This has always been one of my favorite plays, and it was very satisfying to be able to share this classic with a new generation. I had an absolutely stellar cast, and despite losing multiple rehearsals (including dress rehearsal) to inclement weather, they hit it out of the park with this production. For more pictures and tidbits, visit our page “friends of OHS Drama Club” on facebook!
As mentioned in the previous picture post, the ice on the river came out QUICKLY this week! I stopped at the landing to check things out and was glad to see that most of the snow was gone from the parking lot.
As I write this from high atop the bluff overlooking the St. Croix River, it has started to rain. We still have a considerable snow cover here in the woods, but I am hopeful that even that will be mostly gone by morning.
In case you anyone is wondering what “Old Man River” does during the off-season, I spent the morning installing a new electric fencer to keep the horses in and am now starting to get ready to go help chaperone the Sadie Hawkins event at the high school where I teach. Today is a little bit of a “calm before the storm” moment, as we are…
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Welcome to my new blog!
I hope to use this space to blog about the adventure known as Riverwood Canoe, a canoe and Kayak rental business that my sons Joel and Andrew and I started last summer.
The big news right now is that at long last, it appears as if winter’s grip has been broken! Here on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, the ice has started to turn grey, a sure sign that the ice will be out in a few days. I am going out on a limb and predicting that it will be gone from the Osceola Landing by Friday. Here on the homestead, the heavy woods have kept the snow cover intact. I had to wade through more than a foot of snow to get to the mini-bus for my monthly “start-and-run”. Before you know it, the time will come when we can stop dreaming of getting people on the river and actually start doing it!
This year we are hoping to run shuttles on the weekend during the month of May. Of course, everything will depend on the snow melt and the spring flooding. At Riverwood Canoe we are dedicated to providing a SAFE and enjoyable experience for all of our guests.
Next time I will bring you up to speed on what your crack Riverwood Canoe staff has been doing in the off-season.