By Melissa Gearman
Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes but what many people don’t realize is the number of rivers that can be found here. Of Minnesota’s 69,000 miles of rivers and streams, over 4,500 miles have been designated by the DNR as a water trail, a stretch of river maintained for recreation and paddling purposes. Year in and year out this state has been rated as having one of the best water trail systems in the country. However, until recently, many people have failed to realize this recreational opportunity in their backyard. Thanks to the increasing popularity of paddling sports such as canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding rivers are seeing more users with each passing year.
With the increase in river users comes the need for maintaining these waterways. In comes the water trails crew. From April to October we are responsible for clearing logjams and snags to create a pathway that allows safe passage for paddlers through a river. The work is hard but very fun and incredibly rewarding.
Before we even got out on the river we went through extra training. We spent a week in the office learning about the water trails system and water recreation in Minnesota, and watched a lovely presentation on chainsaw use in water (I have several friends who have had jobs requiring chainsaw use and they all, without a doubt, question the chainsaws ability to work in the water; I can assure you, it works).
Once the office work was done, the real fun began. We spent an entire day learning how to launch and maneuver the boats. Most of the crew members had no prior experience using an outboard motor and it did take a little getting used to. To go left you must pull right, to go right you must push left. It wasn’t long before everyone was getting comfortable and doing figure eights in the nice wide Mississippi/Minnesota River.
The next week we were finally out on a river doing actual snag removal. Everything we learned the previous week had to be put together. I only had two rules: whatever you do don’t drop the chainsaw in the water, and please be considerate and watch the rooster tails (see photo above for example). Learning about chainsaw use on water was one thing, doing it was an entirely different experience. Factors such as current, boat stability, tension and compression of logs and unseen debris underwater, the resistance of cutting in the water, awkward positions for cutting, rooster tails and not getting water in the boat all needed to be considered before actually making a cut. Another skill that was harder than it looked in training week was boat maneuvering. The small, snag- and obstruction-filled river was a little more difficult to boat around than the wide open Minnesota and Mississippi. However, I am glad to say that my crew did wonderfully in their first week. They picked up skills and techniques faster than I ever did last year and are excited and enthusiastic for this type of work. I’m glad because we have six months of nothing but this work ahead of us.