When we first arrived at the logjam, we had already left our boats behind. Our last two river projects had involved us dragging our canoes over sandbars and rocks on rivers that have mostly dried up for the year, so we expected to simply walk up to the 250 foot logjam on the Whitewater River and dice it up quickly. With the fall drought, the water levels have been exceptionally low, but the Whitewater was churning.
“So you guys are here for the Little Fork blood drive.” Andrew, our project host, said as he led us back to his office to go over river maps with us. “The bugs are really bad at this time of year, and the Little Fork is about as remote as anything.”
The Water Trails crew, the crew I serve on, has begun our river work over the last month bringing us to places such as Cambridge to work on the Rum River, Sauk Rapids to work on the Sauk River, to Duluth to undergo our whitewater training on the St. Louis River. I'm especially proud to work on the Water Trails crew because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Minnesota Water Trails. Four rivers, the Minnesota, the St. Croix, the Big Fork and the Little Fork were originally designated as Water Trails in 1963 and over the last fifty years that list has grown to 33 rivers. To celebrate the anniversary, the DNR partnered with Wilderness Inquiry and CURE (Clean Up the River Environment) to host a celebration on the Minnesota River in Granite Falls. Wilderness Inquiry provided large cedar-strip canoes for festival-goers to paddle down about three miles of the river. Every few hundred yards, community members in period garments staged scenes from the river's history on shore while the audience watched from their canoes on the river.
Two weeks ago our crew volunteered to work with DNR forestry to help burn and monitor slash piles. We didn't receive much more information than that, but burning is always fun. We drove toward White Bear Lake and I watched the terrain become slightly more forested, but only because it became more residential. Large suburban houses poked out of the maple stands. We pulled into a cul-de-sac and drove to the end where two muddy ruts dove through a small field past some lumber piles and a DNR van before disappearing into a pine stand. We got out of the truck as Art, the project host, approached us. In the forest I could see a skidder grappling piles of brush and dropping them onto a roaring bonfire. Beyond that I saw a field and then a playground and then a school.