River Conditions Blog

Hi, my name is Joan Jacobowski and I'm a Seasonal Interpretive Ranger for the Namekagon District of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway. This district includes the entire Namekagon River and the St. Croix River from Gordon Dam to Highway 70.

Throughout the summer, as the Namekagon Interpretive team paddles the rivers, talks to other Riverway staff, and talks to visitors, we will be posting information about the river conditions. This information is subjective, please use caution when paddling the rivers. It is always a good idea to wear your life jacket, pack dry clothes, paddle with a buddy, and let someone know your trip plans.

  • Namekagon Dam Gauge as of 09/09/2010 is 1.45
  • County T as of 09/09/10 was .95

For gauge descriptions visit www.nps.gov/sacn/planyourvisit/riverlevels

It is always helpful to hear from visitors, please share your comments and questions at e-mail us or call the Namekagon Visitor Center at 715-635-8346.

Happy Paddles!!


April 14, 2010 Upper St. Croix: Scott's Bridge to County T. "The Rock Garden"

Seasonal Interpretive Ranger Katie Worrell and I rendezvoused at County T to kayak back from Scott’s Bridge. I was really looking forward to my first time on the river this spring. We don’t get on the Upper St. Croix much due to low water levels. The last time I canoed from Gordon Dam to County T, it was on a bird survey in June. The water was so low we walked ½ the way and I ended up at the chiropractor’s. So, I was really looking forward to kayaking that stretch without having to get out and walk.

Weather: The weather was cool and partly cloudy with rain in the forecast. The water temperature was cold but we only stepped in it to get in and out. Our timing was perfect. It started to pour as we left.

Water level conditions: John Rogowski in Maintainance told me he best guessed the bent County T. gauge as .7. I agree. It was still very do-able. We scraped a little here and there and got stuck on rocks now and then; but on the whole, it wasn’t bad. Now, I had a visitor call and ask how it was, looking for the “fun roller coaster ride over lots of rapids where we barely touched a rock” of his past trips. Sorry, not this year in these drought conditions. But compared to my last experience of walking ½ the way, I thought it was great! Katie and I had a delightful time. It took us 3 hrs. of steady paddling. We portaged around Copper Mine Dam, definitely recommended in low water conditions.

Wildlife: Compared to the Namekagon, the Upper St. Croix feels much more remote and wild. We didn’t hear another human sound the whole way. On the Nam, the deer will watch you glide by. Here, she bounded away at 50 yards. We saw 3 painted turtles sunning on a log and heard many birds: yellow shafted flickers, blue jays and many more I’m trying to learn! We flushed several pairs of woodies, hooded mergansers, and mallards down the river. A dramatic moment came when Katie saw an immature eagle plunge into the river, shake himself off on a stump, then wheel low over my head; beautiful!

Scenery: Affectionately known as the rock garden, the Upper St. Croix carries you through mixed conifers/hardwoods, wetlands and a couple tamarack swamps. Unlike the sand and glacial till (that’s rocks to you) river bottom of the Namekagon, the Upper St. Croix glides over bedrock. The mile or two before County T is particularly beautiful as bedrock banks rise on either side, mini-precursors of the dramatic bluffs of the Lower St. Croix.

Wildflowers: Whoa! Everything is so early this year! Bloodroot and hepatica were out in full bloom. We saw some wild leeks and the marsh marigolds were just starting.


May 7, 2010 Visitors on the River

Some brave souls stopped into the Visitor Center on this blizzady day. First it was pouring rain, then it turned to snow! They were kayaking all the way from Seeley to Hwy. 70! Fortunately, they had the proper gear. It really points out how unpredictable the weather can be. You need to prepare for anything. I asked them how the water levels were. “We had to get out and walk a couple of times, a couple of hundred! (much laughter)”. They said it was fine after Hayward. Hearty souls, they only stayed long enough to change into dry clothes and then went back into the gale. Now that’s dedication! And good gear.

Wildlife: They were lucky enough to see a bear cross the river! A rare event!


May 9, 2010 Happy Mother's Day!

What better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than to take a trip on the Namekagon? A family group who agreed stopped into the Visitor Center today. They put in at Hayward on Fri. night. Wow, in the snow. They said they actually had some whiteout conditions on the river Sat. morning! But did they stop? No, they paddled on. Like Friday’s river group, they were prepared and brought plenty of warm, dry clothes. And today, thankfully, is cool but sunny; a beautiful day!

Wildlife: They saw two small bear cubs up a tree! porkies, a muskrat, great blue herons, Canadian geese, a duck with a “head like a loon and a lot of white on its body” and only a few eagles.

Take a tip from these two smart groups and prepare for the worst. You never know. It just might snow!


May 15, 2010 Hello Rollercoaster!

Yay! Much needed rain has brought up the river levels. County T was at 2.3 two days ago! We don't know how fast it'll drop so, if you'd like to try the Upper St. Croix, now is the time to go.

Interestingly, Namekagon Dam is up, but only a little: 1.4 - not high enough to venture over the rocks and beaver dams. Remember, we recommend a minimum of 1.5 to do the stretch from Nam Dam to Cty M, however we are getting reports of adequate water levels from Cty M down. We have no idea how long these levels will hold so, again, go for it while the water's up!

Poison ivy: Common all along the river and tricky to identify before the leaves emerge (as I learned down at the Indianhead Trail in St. Croix Falls- taking pictures of the spectacular wildflowers! Ouch!- or should I say, Itch!). Look for craggy forked sticks, rising perhaps 6-12". Look close to see three teeny tiny leaves on top of the stick. Be especially careful at Howell Landing. If you're in the woods, you're in poison ivy.
Poison ivy does have some good points. Deer eat it and I recently read that 43 different kinds of birds eat its berries!

Wildflowers: Yellow Ladyslippers are blooming on the St. Croix. Trillium are blooming in wooded lowlands. In the sand barrens look for the lovely blue, Wild Lupin- the only nectar flower for the Karner Blue Butterfly! Also watch for Hoary Puccoon, Pussy Toes and the adorable Birdfoot Violet!

Wildlife:I'm still learning to identify the birdcalls we hear on the river. At Hwy 70 Ldg. I heard eagles. Robins, chipping sparrows, phoebe's, black capped chickadees, red eyed vireos, common yellow throat, crows, ravens, white throated sparrow, oven birds, great blue heron, mallards and canadian geese seem to be everywhere. Pileated woodpeckers flushed at Sandrock cliffs. I was thrilled to hear my first wild turkey gobbling at Nelson Ldg. Barred owls hooted at McDowell Ldg. A partridge drummed at West Howell. A mourning dove cooed. At Lake Namekagon you can see loons. I only heard frogs (chorus) at Hwy 70 Ldg. and Spring Peepers at Norway Point.

Dogs: Please remember that dogs must be leashed on the Riverway.


May 22, 2010 Visitor Feedback

A visitor shared their experience on the Upper St Croix: "We had a wonderful trip from County T to Riverside Landing on 5/15 - 5/16 with a wild ride over fishtrap rapids. The two of us both had long kayaks which made the 2ft plus standing waves doable though we took on a fair amount of water. I believe on Friday at one point the website reported the County T level at 1.7, so we were quite shocked to see the gauge read 2.4 on Saturday morning. Still a great time, plenty of Oriole, Grosbeak & Warbler activity. A monsterous active eagle's nest at the head of fishtrap rapids was spotted. The challenges to endure included lots of ticks, flies & some lethargic mosquitos. We had fantastic weather & the expected slow fishing, though one nice smallmouth was landed."

On May 17 Law Enforcement Officer Charlie Lund reported lots of happy canoers and good condtions on both rivers.

It's interesting how fast the water level drops in the St. Croix vs. the Namekagon. After several days of the rain, Cty T. gauge apparently went all the way to 2.4 but Namekagon Dam only went up to 1.4. Cty T quickly dropped and was .85 on 5-20, while Namekagon Dam stayed at 1.4. I assume it's because the St. Croix draws from a much bigger watershed or drainage basin. Good to know for trip planning!

Mussels: I was saddened to see someone had taken a number of mussel shells (or clams) out on shore at one of the landings this week. These amazing creatures spend their whole lives (up to 80 yrs!) filtering and hence cleaning the water. A single mussel can clean over a liter of water a day! The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is truly unique in the nation. We still have our complete historic mussel species population! a tribute to how clean and healthy our water is. Please help us keep it that way. All mussels and mussel shells are protected in the Riverway. Please do not touch or disturb them. Even the empty shells provide habitat for algae, shelter for aquatic invertebrates and fish eggs; and their calcium helps the water maintain the proper pH. Who knew? To learn even more amazing facts about mussels read our mussel fact sheet or go to http://unionid.missouristate.edu/http://unionid.missouristate.edu/

Riverside to the next landing: Yesterday Interpretive Rangers Katie Worrell, Jamie Lund and I got to Kayak from Riverside to the next landing. Yay! The river is definitely my favorite place to be! We're always trying to learn all we can about the river, "the better to help you, my dear". I had two exciting firsts: it was my first time on that stretch! AND I finally saw my first five foot sturgeon! Yay!!!!!! At first I thought it was a log. But then it moved! We also saw at least fifty map turtles in one quarter mile! Wow! I've never seen a map turtle in the Namekagon, but in the St. Croix- they're the most common turtle you'll see! We saw eagles and an eagle nest and heard the "who cooks for you?" of the barred owl. I can personally attest to how nice Katie and Jamie are: they didn't even laugh when the only way I could exit my kayak at deep Pansy was to fall in! So keep your eyes and ears open on the Riverway! You never know what you'll see or hear!


May 26 2010 Namekagon Trail Bridge to Riverside

Yay! Out on the river again! We had a training day on the river with our new interns: Emily Heeszel, Cheng Vang and Josh Smith. Hopefully they'll be able to share their first impressions with you very soon. Old hands Jamie Lund and I were thrilled at the good water levels! I don't think they scraped at all! I (ahem) went over a rock here and there- but that was because of inattention- not low water.
This stretch of the Namekagon is particularly pretty(lots of big red and white pines) and has some very nice campsites. But once the water gets low, it gets really challenging because the last three miles from the confluence with the St. Croix River to Riverside Landing become very shallow and rocky. So, I'm happy to report that the water levels on this stretch are great for Memorial Day!

Wildlife: I promised Josh an eagle. It took awhile but we finally saw her. I don't know if I've ever not seen at least one on the river. District Interpretive Ranger Jean Van Tatenhove remarked that in thirteen years on the river, she's only not seen one a couple of times. So, you're almost guaranteed to see eagles if you keep your eyes open. We were serenaded by many birds all along the way, including one particularly loud hairy woodpecker at Namekagon Trail Bridge-love those metal signs! We saw the occasional smallish fish and one big'un. Josh pointed out a large map turtle (my first on the Nam! Yay!) which I would've missed. Thanks, Josh! You can distinguish map turtles from snappers at boat distance by the sharp keel along their spine. Mosquitoes are out in force, but the dragonflies are on patrol.

Wildflowers: The wild lupine on the way to the river is spectacular! If you're lucky you might still spot the diminuitive and elegant birdfoot violet, well worth a stop. Orange hoary puccoon and pink phlox also bloom along the road and in the barrens. On the river the Canadian Mayflowers are out (how fitting!), also: wild geraniums, wild lilies of the valley and bunchberry blossoms. Keep an eye out for the elusive pink ladyslippers.

Be especially vigilant with sunscreen. The reflection of the water doubles your sun exposure. So, take the time to cover all exposed skin. Both Jamie and I missed a bit, ouch!

Happy Memorial Day! See you on the river!


May 28 2010 Pirates?

Today I was delighted to meet the Pirates of the Namekagon! Fortunately, they were friendly, and helpful too! Their personable, young leader had just paddled all the way down from Namekagon Dam! In these low water conditions! Whoa! So, finally I can give you a first person account of how the water conditions are above Hayward. In a word, low. Of course, we knew that. I asked him at what point the water levels were high enough to paddle comfortably without scraping too much. Not until Phipps. Wow. Nam Dam to Phipps. That's a long way to drag a canoe. Twenty four and a half miles, to be precise. Yikes! What a workout! But he is a pirate, after all.

Wildlife: Our friendly pirate also reported seeing the biggest otter ever on the Namekagon, bigger than his black lab. That's big!

Other visitors also report good conditions from Hayward down.

Have a wonderful and safe weekend!


May 28 2010 County K to Whispering Pine

Out on the river again! Law enforcement officers Chuck Carlson and Sean Williams kindly shuttled me and our faithful volunteers, Tom and Jane Gerber to County K Landing. When we first arrived, there were only a few visitors; but soon County K turned into Grand Central! Whoa! Now, don't let that discourage you. It can get crowded at the landing; but as soon as you get on the water, peace descends. Tom and Jane quickly departed on their mission of assessing landing and campsite conditions. Thank you, Tom and Jane! I'll post their report for you in the near future.

Water levels: I was surprised County K to Whispering Pine was as low as it was because the Nam Trail stretch is so good. But there's quite a few little tributaries between them. Already we're into the "stay in the main channel" stage at County K. I scraped a bit in the shallow riffles and got out to walk a very short distance twice.

Wildlife: " What is that?!" Look closely. At the water's edge, you can frequently see grayish, prehistoric looking bug forms. They're about an inch and a half long. You'll find them on rocks and plants all along the river. At County K, they were on the rocks and even one on a plantain leaf! I've seen them on trees, grasses and landing steps. What lives for years in the water, crawls out and emerges as an adult flying form that only lives for eight weeks or so? It has amazing eyesight and flying ability, zipping up, down and all around. In prehistoric times, they had a two foot wingspan! Its shimmering wings inspire artists and jewelry makers. We love them because they eat mosqitoes. They're such skilled hunters we call them _____flys! Can you guess? That's right! Dragonflies! Back to those bug forms on the rocks. Look again. Can you see a hole in its back? That's where the dragonfly emerged from the nymph. The empty shells left behind are called "exuvia". If you're lucky, you might see a freshly emerged dragonfly drying its wings before it flies away. You can tell dragonflies from the dainty damselfly by the way they hold their wings. Dragonflies wings lay straight out at rest, while damselflies' wings fold up. In 1989 a previously unknown dragonfly was discovered on the St. Croix river! Today we know it as the St. Croix snaketail!

I was very happy to finally see the beautiful northern orioles you can hear flitting through the tagalders. A visitor saw a fawn! Black and yellow viceroy butterflies are everywhere! Common mergansers, red winged black birds, lots of common yellowthroats! I was just wondering what happened to all the cat birds when I heard one! Now here's a kick! I was looking up at a tall white pine thinking that was a perfect perch for an eagle when I saw a dark shadow on the water. I looked up and there was an eagle right overhead! And it flew right into that very pine! Ha!

Wildflowers: Marsh marigolds, forget-me-nots, wild rose,wild geranium, phlox and blue flag!

Have fun on the river!


June 4, 2010 Rain, Rain
Ah, what a lovely sound to wake up to...and the phoebes "singin in the rain". Finally! some rain! Yay! Sad to say, though; even after a whole night of rain, County T only went from .5 up to .66. Still far too low to do the upper St. Croix without lots of walking. I can tell you that the Namekagon from Hayward down is still totally do-able with a little scraping here and there.

Springbrook to Big Bend: Josh smith-adopt a landing intern, Emily Heezel -Junior Ranger intern, Kathy Kafura, Liz Peterson and Ann -Resource Management and I paddled from Springbrook to Big Bend. Right after Springbrook there is a shallow stretch where we did walk just a bit. If you can get to the channel between the two, tiny islands on the right; you might not have to walk. Other than that, we only scraped a teeny bit. Big Bend to Earl is nice and deep. You'll have no scraping there.

Wildflowers: The Canadian Anemones are out in force. We saw lots of Blue Flag (wild iris) and phlox blooming.

Wildlife: Great Blue Heron, River Redhorse suckers, many, many birds!

Turtles: Watch for turtles crossing the road! If you choose to help them be careful! Watch out for traffic, of course. Most turtles will run away from you. But snappers will turn to face you and they have long reach! So, I try to get them to chase me off the road. Be sure to help them in the direction they want to go, so they don't just cross back again! And turtles may carry salmonella, so wash your hands quick. Oh! Remember frightened animals tend to empty their bladder so hold them off to the side, if you choose to pick them up.
Up at County T, Emily and I saw a softshell female in the grass! That'd be a hard place to dig a nest! Once I was sitting on the bank eating lunch when a turtle quick jumped in the river just to my left! Can't you just imagine it sneaking up behind me? What I'd give to see that! Under the bridge we saw a large pizza sized softshell turtle bury himself in the mud. Only the nose stuck out. I assume this was a camouflage hunting technique. Let's look it up and find out!

June 12 2010 It's raining, it's pouring
I am SO excited to report all this rain has brought the river up! Yay! yay! yay! Nam Dam was at 1.45 yesterday and County T is 1.75!!!!SO, what that means is that the Upper St. Croix is high enough to paddle and so is the Namekagon from County M down! Yay! So, if you've been wanting to go do those stretches, now is the time! And who knows? Maybe this evening's rain will raise Nam Dam to 1.5 tomorrow and then we can do Nam Dam to County M! Keep your fingers crossed!

June 13 2010 Nam Dam is 1.5!!!!!!
Yes! I am thrilled to report Nam Dam is up to 1.5 and therefore do-able! Yay!!!!! So, if you've ever wanted to do Nam Dam; now's the time. If the water levels respond like they did after the last rain spell; the Upper St. Croix will quickly fall but the Namekagon will hold a little longer. If you've ever wanted to attempt either of these stretches, I would do it now.

Eagles: Recently we had the opportunity to tag along with Bill Route, Director of the National Park Service Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network. Bill monitors emerging contaminants in nestling bald eagles. Timing is critical. At six weeks the chicks are fluffy and sturdy enough to survive without constant parental care. Too much older and the climber might spook them into premature fledging. As we approached the nest Bill kept a sharp eye out for any little heads popping up. When he spotted something, I looked and couldn't see a thing. The climber was pessimistic. He and Bill placed a friendly wager. Lots of "white wash" below said 'maybe'. Anticipation was high as the climber effortlessly rose higher. Great luck! Not only one, but two chicks! We couldn't wait to see them emerge from the carrying bags! Beautiful! Bright eyed, fluffy and alert, they looked around, "what's going on?" I was amazed at their calm...and the size of their talons! Bill and company quickly and efficiently worked to take blood and feather samples. Intern Emily Heezil actually got to assist! Bill explained, "these chicks are sampling the local environment for us. The adults may have wintered in Florida, but everything the chicks have eaten for the last six weeks is from right here." Back at the lab the blood and feathers will be analyzed for contaminants. Under the nest, I actually got to hold a baby bald eagle! How exciting!...it brought tears to my eyes...truly a once in a lifetime experience. All too soon, the babies were whisked back to their nest (what do they think?). That's when the itchies appeared. Apparently, I'm allergic to eagles! Ha! A small price to pay.

Study results: Past studies have turned up a plethora of chemicals -right up here- in our pristine, northwoods backyards:
DDT: Eagles have made a spectacular comeback in the thirty years since DDT was banned in the United States. Their eggs used to be so weak the mother would break them by sitting on them. I grew up on the Mississippi and never even saw an eagle 'til I was adult. Even so, every single eagle chick Bill has sampled still carries DDE, the compound that DDT breaks down into. And DDT still shows up in Twin City and Apostle Island birds. Thirty years later and it's still here! The list of contaminants is long, including toxic compounds from Teflon and Goretex, PCPs, PCBs and many more.
Mercury deposition: In the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway the highest concentration of mercury shows up in the remotest area: the Upper St. Croix. Why? The St. Croix Watershed (or drainage basin) includes many wetlands. The acidity of the bogs changes the mercury to a more toxic form: methyl mercury.
These are just a few of the many contaminants found right here in the beautiful northwoods. Please do your part. Dispose of toxic materials properly. Don't litter. Don't burn trash. Follow the Department of Natural Resouces Guidelines for safe fish consumption. For more information on Bill Route's monitoring project go to https://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/GLKN/monitoring.cfm
Have a safe time on the river!

June 17, 2010 Good news!
Maintenance Ranger Chuck Turpin and his crew just got back from the Upper St. Croix. They went through Fish Trap rapids and had a great time. "The water levels are great! I'd go right back and do it again!" Sounds like good advice! Have fun!

June 17, 2010 Upper St. Croix Rapids
Interpretive ranger Molly Cook, Volunteers for Landings Intern Josh Smith and I headed out to the Upper St. Croix to take advantage of the high water levels. Whoo-ee! Molly and Josh put in at Gordon Dam while I went to County T. Molly reported "It was really fun! We had no problems with Scott's Bridge or Coppermine rapids." I, on the other hand, did my usual "stuck,turn,tip and swim" routine at Fish trap rapids. Before approaching rapids stow all gear securely and make sure your life jacket is on and fastened. If, like me, you succumb to the siren call of the rocks, make sure you exit your boat on the upriver side so that you don't get trapped between a rock and your boat with the force of all the current behind it. Keep your feet first, better to bump your feet than your head on a rock. Thankfully, your life jacket will keep your head up, despite the waves. You can also use your paddle to help you float. When you catch up to your boat in the shallows, turn it over. You want to lift just the boat, not the water in it. Then use your handy dandy little pump to finish the job. They work great! Ahhh, isn't it nice to cool off? How refreshing!

Wildlife: Josh had another once in a lifetime experience. He could see an animal swimming across up ahead. Beaver? No, what emerged on the other side of the bank, was a very large, very dark wolf. As soon as it saw Josh, it ran into the woods. "I don't know the words to describe it...mystical?"
Will you see a wolf on the river? Maybe, if you're very ,very lucky. Will you hear them if you're camping? Quite possibly. Thirteen wolf packs make use of the Riverway. Should you be afraid? While that's a very natural reaction, let's look at the facts. What animal accounts for most attacks in National Parks? Deer; they may look tame, but they're wild animals with sharp hooves and a powerful kick. Never try to pet or feed them. A visitor just told me a deer charged and snorted at her family while canoeing on the Namekagon. Perhaps her fawn was nearby. How many confirmed wolf attacks on people have occurred in the United States? Zero. Feral dogs, on the other hand, are very dangerous because they have no fear of people.
What will your wilderness experience be on the river? Let me know and I'll be happy to share it.

Have a fun, safe time on the river!


June 27, 2010 The whole Riverway is high enough
I'm happy to report that with Nam Dam at 1.65 and the Upper St. Croix at 1.36; the whole Riverway is now high enough to paddle!
Yesterday I talked to two groups taking out at Riverside. They reported that the levels were high enough to paddle easily, but not so high as to be too fast and hard to control. Both groups had children with them.

When Nam Dam was just below 1.5 a visitor reported that doing Nam Dam with three people in a canoe was very difficult, even with experienced canoers. So, if you are interested in doing Nam Dam while the water levels are high enough, kayaks would probably be best.

Hazards: One of the groups at Riverside tangled with a tree. Trees in the water or "strainers" can potentially be very dangerous. Avoid them if at all possible. If you go under them you could get caught on loose clothing or rope and get trapped. Also, the quickest way to tip a canoe is to grab a branch, so don't.

Have a great time on the river! And stay safe!

July 7, 2010 Water's up!
Isn't it great? We keep getting enough rain to keep the whole Riverway do-able! Yay! County T is 1.75. We won't have Nam Dam's reading until tomorrow. But, I'd guess with all this rain it's still 1.5. I'll let you know as soon as I find out! ( Wrong! It's only 1.48 Too low to do Nam Dam to M).

County K was a hopping place last Saturday! Visitors were from all over the region. We had fun learning about wildlife on and in the river! And, of course, the Riverway has many rules to protect you and the river. Paramount for anyone with children: please remember that for your child's safety, all children thirteen and under must have a life jacket on and fastened while in a boat or inner tube.
We were all happy to see how high the water levels were. I only scraped a couple times and never had to get out or even push off. Yay! And most campsites were still available! Surprising!

Wildlife: With increased rain comes increased tannins from wetland runoff. The river is still just as clean, but it's not quite so clear. So, the fish weren't quite as visible, but we still saw quite a few. I saw a flock of young common mergansers, a pair of eagles gliding high above and a big eagle's nest. We saw a couple green heron and visitors reported seeing many deer. Among the many birds we could hear, I could distinguish common yellowthroat, veery, red-eyed vireo, a catbird and robins. The admiral butterflies have hatched.
Wildflowers: Blue vervain, yarrow, hare bells, water hemlock, Joe Pye weed, swamp milkweed, black-eyed Susan and butterfly weed in the Barrens. If you have a chance, stop to smell the swamp milkweed. It has a most heavenly scent, like vanilla; milkweed perfume, anyone? The brilliant orange butterfly weed is also a milkweed, as you can see from the "coronaria" or crown-like blossoms. Look for it in the barrens , on your way to the river.

The Joe Pye weed is just starting. It will bloom for a long time and also smells nice. They've bred larger cultivars for your native landscaping. I read that Joe Pye was an Indian healer out east. So, I guess we could infer that Joe Pye weed is medicinal, but, of course, we can't pick any plants along the Riverway.
One plant to be especially wary of is the lovely but deadly, Water Hemlock. Remember Socrates? A close relative of our water hemlock provided the seeds for his "cup of death". Some boy scouts used water hemlock's hollow stems to swim underwater. They ended up in the hospital. One foolish botanist was curious about it's affects. He only tried one bite, but that was one bite too many. A daredevil student from Northland College just held the plant against the inside if his mouth. He felt effects immediately. Now here's the scary part. Water hemlock is a poisonous lookalike for Queen Anne's lace (which is the same species as the domestic carrot). Water hemlock even smells like carrots! It even has tuber-like roots that look like a vegetable! Yikes! So, remember water hemlock, and don't pick the wildflowers. " Take only pictures, leave only footprints".

Come and see our native prairie at the Visitor Center. We have lots of butterfly weed! It always amazes me how even a small native planting can be so alive with birds and local pollinators. And plants are so fascinating! They all have stories to tell.
Please remember: all plants, shells, mussels and cultural artifacts are protected and should be left alone.
Have a happy, safe time on the river!

July 11, 2010 Norway to Soderbeck/ Upper Nam
Upper Namekagon: Resource Management Rangers, Kathy Kafura, Edward Evans and Intern Katy Cummings were working on Honeysuckle control last week. On July seventh they canoed from Peterson Road to Phipps. Kathy reported that while it was shallow, you could still get through just fine, as long as you stayed in the fastest channel. The Honeysuckle shrub has escaped from the suburbs into the wild and has become very invasive, displacing native shrubs.

With high water and sunny weather, the last two weekends have been busy! Lots of tubers from Trout Run to Hayward! And downstream too, of course. My son swamped our kayak north of Hayward yesterday, hitting a tree (what? he didn't read my warning? Hymph!). Thank goodness his best friend's five year old was fine and his Dad retrieved the kayak, but the take away is: stay away from trees! He also reported that they only scraped a little.
A visitor went from County M to Cable Wayside yesterday and reported they had a wonderful time.

Friday I got to explore new territory! Norway to Soderbeck. Yay! Well, the first difference you notice between the Namekagon and the St. Croix is size. Wow! The St. Croix is big! and windy! and the water is brown from natural wetland drainage. What a beautiful section!

This section includes the of the Kettle River slough, very fun if the water's high enough. We went through it a couple spring's ago. Right now though, I'd say it's getting iffy. When I looked back up the confluence, it looked awfully rocky.

In the main channel, this section has lots of wide, shallow riffles. Right now it's still very easy to get through, but when the water drops, there'll be lots of walking. From the silty plants at water's edge, it looks like the river's already dropped a foot since the last rain.

Wildlife: Map turtles, eagles. I surprised a family of hooded mergansers resting on a rock: plop, plop, plop. Lots of visitors were fishing for smallies and channel catfish.

Exotic Invasives: Speaking of exotic invasives displacing natives, a visitor from Madison was photographing Rusty crayfish at Soderbeck. Sadly, native crayfish haven't been sighted in Marshland District programs on the St. Croix for some years now. Where did the Rustys come from? Dumped bait. So enjoy fishing on the Riverway but remember, it's illegal to dump your unused bait or to transport water, plants or animals from one body of water to another. We're all especially concerned about zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil. So please do the right thing and wash your boat.

Wildflowers: Culver's root is out! And the fabulous Turk's Cap lily!

Have fun! Wash your boat and don't give invasives a ride!

July 18,2010 Namekagon Trail Bridge to Riverside
Another day on the river, Yay! Lots of visitors agree because yesterday the river was packed! We're always happy to see people having fun on the river! safely and respectfully, of course:) The water levels were the best I've experienced on this stretch in four years. Nam Trail to riverside starts out plenty deep enough. As you approach and at the confluence, there are some wide, shallow stretches. I only scraped a little, never got stuck, never had to walk, yay!!! Last year it was so shallow, you had to walk the last one hundred yards to Riverside! No fun! At first I thought all the rapids had disappeared, 'til I hit them, of course. Ever since I did the Ledges on the Brule when the outfitter said it was too high (listen to your outfitter!), even small rapids make my heart pound (pitiful, isn't it?). I find the best approach is to go slow. Slowly hitting rocks is much less painful and you're much less likely to tip, wobble or take water. Fortunately, it was smooth sailing. Yay! Nary a scrape! So, Nam Tr to Riverside is easy beans! And after last night's downpour, it should be even better!

Wildlife: Osprey! Visitors saw a doe and fawn right up close! I saw some lovely, fresh bear scat at a campsite. Looks like it's a good year for raspberries!

Wildflowers: Spotted: The beautiful and elusive Purple Fringed Orchid! If you see a purple spike of flowers along the banks, do stop to soak in its delicacy and fragrance! Lovely! And leave it for the next visitor to enjoy!

Remember: All the wildflowers, plants, mussels (clams) and empty mussel shells are protected on the Riverway. Take only pictures, leave only footprints (or paddle splashes)
Enjoy the good water levels!


July 21, 2010 Dropping Fast
Hard to believe how quickly the water drops without rain, isn't it? But the maintenance crew canoed Phipps to Hayward yesterday and reports they scraped a little, but on the whole, the water levels were fine.

July 22, 2010 Visitor Feedback, County M to Wayside
A family canoed County M to Wayside yesterday. They reported good water levels. They scraped a little but only had to get out once. They had three people in a Grummen canoe with a keel. People in kayaks went by without having to get out.

August 8, 2010 Water levels are great!
Our wonderful volunteers, Tom and Jane Gerber paddled Springbrook to Trego last week and didn't scrape once! Not even in the shallows just down from Springbrook!Visitors report doing Namekagon Dam to County M just fine. When I asked for details they admitted they had to get out occasionally. It just points out how important individual expectations are. One person's "terrible!" is another person's "great!" "We never had to walk more than fifty feet". The water is high enough that you won't scrape in the flat water; but the ten beaver dams are still there and the seven stretches of sharp, angular, uneven rocks. So, if that sounds like fun; maybe you'll like it!Interpretive Program Assistant Kevin Iverson and I paddled from Whispering Pine to Fritz in the last couple days and the water's the highest I've seen it in years. Jerry Pardun told me the water's the highest he's seen it in their nine years in business.So, the whole riverway is do-able, allowing for individual preferences. Namekagon Dam to County M and the Gordon Dam to CCC are high enough if you want whitewater and don't mind scraping and walking a bit. Have fun! but stay safe!

Wildflowers: Joe Pye weed, goldenrod, boneset, jewelweed and green headed coneflower.Jewelweed (or touch me not) is interesting. If you touch a ripe seedpod it explodes! so, that's fun! Now of course you know you can't pick plants on the National Scenic Riverway; but if you run into jewelweed somewhere else it has some very unique properties: if you pick a plant (remember- not on the riverway) and twirl it under water, it looks like it's covered in silver foil! Remember Euell Gibbons? Well, forty (omigosh!) years ago I bought Stalking the Wild Asparagus for $ two fifty! And he said that jewelweed would clear up poison ivy. Wildlife: It was pretty still, but we heard: ravens, kingfishers, bluejays, red-eyed vireos,chickadees, clay colored sparrow, phoebes and a bird with a single repeated note I don't know but also hear at my house. There was an eagle soaring very high and some juvenile mallards sunning at a landing.

Remember to carry all your trash out. Please don't burn it. It's illegal and toxic. Ted Gostomski, science writer/ biologist with the National Park Service's Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Program was kind enough to provide a couple links for more information of the toxic effects of burning. Thanks, Ted. http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/eh/hlthhaz/fs/woodbrn.htm
Burning trash releases all sorts of nasty chemicals, including dioxin and additionally causes new chemicals to form. Please take your trash home and dispose of it properly. Thank you! Have fun! but stay safe!

August 15, 2010 Stinnett to Springbrook Wow!
The river is high! Yesterday I kayaked (yay!) from Stinnett to Springbrook. After eight years of drought, we've had almost weekly thunderstorms. Our park biologist Robin Maerklein says that although this summer's rainfall is only a little higher than normal, the river level for this time of year is very high. It looks and feels like early spring melt high. It's moving fast. Volunteer Tom Gerber said they were moving at five miles per hour last week.Of course, all the rainfall stirs up the water and with the deeper water; it's harder to see the fish.Lots of people were tubing. Remember that a tube is considered a vessel and all children thirteen and under need to have a lifejacket on and fastened. Wildlife: Lots of turtles: painted, snapping and a spiny softshell. Common mergansers are starting to flock up.Have fun on the river!

August 20, 2010 County K to Whispering Pine Seasonal Interpretive Ranger Senja Melin dropped me off at County K in the pouring rain. She must've thought I was nuts. But the rain soon stopped and a group of canoeing campers pulled in, so I wasn't the only one. It turned out to be another beautiful day on the river. The sun even peeked out occasionally!

Many visitors have asked if the water's too high. Right here at the Visitor Center, it looks like it's up about a foot. I'm sure the rapids are up on the Upper Saint Croix, but at least from County K to Whispering Pine; the water is high, but didn't feel dangerous. Of course, you always have to be careful. How high? Plants on the banks have flooded toes. All the islands and sand bars were covered. I never got stuck or even scraped. You don't have to follow the fastest channel around the corners. You can cut across the shallow riffles, where before you had to avoid them. Caution: never grab at trees. That's the quickest way to flip. After eight years of drought, the river's up to what was normal ten to fifteen years ago. We never used to get stuck in the shallows after Springbrook. Downpours were just par for the course.

Here's a few camping tips I learned in the good, old rainy days of yesteryear: Take a moment to scan the site. Is the site sheltered? Waking up in the dark because a storm is blowing your tent away is disorienting and scary. Always pitch your tent on a high point, never in a depression. "Sleeping" in a puddle is almost impossible and very miserable. And moving the tent in a downpour is no fun either. If you want to dry your socks around a cozy campfire, instead of going to bed wet and soggy; remember that standing deadwood is still pretty dry, even after a whole day of rain. Don't even try anything on the ground. Gathering deadwood is allowed on the Riverway, except on islands. Cutting living green wood is not allowed, but why would you want to? Green wood won't burn anyway.

Plant life: The wild rice is ripening! It's so beautiful! There are only a few very small patches on this stretch, not enough to gather; but fun to enjoy. If you'd like to try harvesting wild rice, you need to get a permit and list of regulations from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission website also has lots of helpful information.

Wildflowers: The Joe Pye weed is fading. The blue vervain is at the very end. Blooming: Goldenrod, wapatoo or Indian potato, green headed coneflowers, turtlehead chelone, woodland sunflowers, boneset, asters and bottlenose gentian. The turtlehead is very pale yellow. If you look close, the blossom really does look like a tiny turtle head. If you're very lucky, you might see a pink turtlehead. I saw one clump once last summer between Hayward and Stinnett. You can recognize boneset by its unique leaf. Instead of pairs of leaves, narrowing at the stem; boneset's leaves are widest at the stem. So, the stem looks like it poking through the leaf. Bottlenose gentian is one of my all time favorites. What a gorgeous blue! Then purple! Ahhhh…

Wildlife: I saw an osprey take off with a big sucker! Wow! You know how the eagles like to sit on big white pine branches overhanging the river and watch the world go by? I drifted under two different eagles. Cool! I even managed to get the camera out in time! Yay! I saw several soft shelled turtles and they didn't even plop away. I flushed a little flock of woodies out of the wild rice. Several little flocks of common mergansers just ignored me.That's the cool thing about the river, keep your eyes open and you never know what you'll see around the bend.

Have fun and stay safe!

September 9, 2010 McDowell to Namekagon Trail Bridge
Isn't it amazing how quickly summer ends? And what better way to spend Labor Day than on the river? It always makes us happy to see people having a fun time safely. Volunteer Iras Humphries and I visited with lots of folks.

Water levels were perfect: not high enough to be scary; but high enough to avoid scraping. A couple in the Visitor Center told me about their trip when the water was so high in August. They canoed to the picnic table! The whole campsite (right before Riverside, on the St. Croix) was flooded six inches!

It is interesting that the St. Croix rose so much higher than the Namekagon. If you look at the Watershed map, you can see why. The St. Croix draws from a much larger drainage basin then the Namekagon. So, it rises a lot faster. But it also drops faster.

The end of summer brings the end of this year's water level blog. I hope you found it helpful, informative and a little fun too. Stay warm this winter and hopefully we'll see you on the river next Spring. And to quote Red Green: "Keep your stick on the ice".

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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