As an environmental educator, I spend a lot of time talking about the St. Croix River in scientific terms – Is the river meeting water quality standards? Are fish and mussel populations healthy? How can we keep excess phosphorus out of the river? Ask me why I love living in the St. Croix Valley, however, and I’ll tell you about so much more.
Within the 7760 square miles of the St. Croix Basin, you can find a National Park, a National Forest, a National Refuge, portions of two National Scenic Trails, three National Historic Landmarks, 12 State Parks, eight State Trails, six State Historic Sites, 10 State Forests, 65 State Natural Areas, more than 150 properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the St. Croix Scenic Byway, and resources associated with four Ojibwe bands that have tribal lands within the watershed. Annually, more than 200,000 visitors spend $8.7 million in communities along the St. Croix River.
Two years ago, the Heritage Initiative was created to explore the concept of a National Heritage Area in the St. Croix River Valley. Last fall, the Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NWRPC) was selected to serve as the coordinating entity for the project and is currently working on a draft proposal, which will be released sometime in the next few weeks. The Heritage Area proposal will focus on four key features that define the St. Croix River Basin: 1) The history of the fur trade and lumber industry in the area; 2) The shared history of the upper Midwest; 3) The waters, woods, and prairie connecting the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River; and 4) The constantly evolving relationships between people and the natural world in the river basin.
At a smaller scale, the Great Rivers Confluence Project, St. Croix Splash, Phipps Center for the Arts, the St. Croix Scenic Coalition, and the St. Croix River Association have all developed imaginative approaches to connect people with the St. Croix River and its resources. The Great Rivers Confluence project, www.greatriversconfluence.org, is an initiative to help connect people with outdoor recreation, culture and history, dining and lodging in Afton, Hastings, Prescott and River Falls near the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers. A unique feature of the website is the Confluence Concierge, which offers suggested itineraries for visitors such as the “Cork to Fork Afternoon,” and “Progressive Patio Dining.”
In a similar vein, a new on-line events calendar known as St. Croix Splash (www.stcroixsplash.org) offers residents and visitors the opportunity to “jump into arts and culture” with local events for kids, theatre, dance, music, literary, visual arts, history and heritage, and nature and recreation. One example of a program that blends nature, art and culture is the Tropical Wings Bird Migration Celebration on Friday, May 2, 6:30-9pm at Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson. Activities will include “The Birds that Connect Us,” a program by Craig Thompson of the Wisconsin DNR, a poetry reading by Laurie Allmann, and a song performed by students at River Crest Elementary School.
The Phipps Center has also spearheaded an ongoing community art project that has engaged local community groups throughout the lower St. Croix Valley in designing, locating, and creating artful benches in outdoor public spaces. This spring, with support from the Kresge Foundation, The Phipps will unveil an Art Bench Trail featuring installations in Hudson, Bayport, St. Croix Falls, Prescott, Somerset, Marine on St. Croix and Denmark Twp and on May 3, 8-11am, there will be events happening at each location to celebrate the Tropical Wings project. Learn more at www.artbenchtrail.org.
The St. Croix River Association is also offering river lovers the chance to spend a full week on the water this summer during their annual St. Croix Paddle. June 14-20, during which people in canoes and kayaks will travel 93 miles of the river from Riverside Landing to the Fred C. Andersen Scout Camp in Houlton, WI. Learn more or register at http://scrapaddle.org.
Arts, culture, history, outdoor recreation, small town charm, scenic vistas, and opportunities for solitude in nature – all of these can be found in the St. Croix Valley, but central to it all is a healthy St. Croix River.