This is the first is a series of monthly columns by local water experts. These columns on local rivers and land use are a collaboration between the League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region and other environmental groups in Anoka County. Learn more about the League of Women Voters at lwvumrr.org.
On some days, we’d need a long rope. On others, a fishing pole and worm-digging knowhow would do. As we got older we’d finagle a borrowed boat and a truck to pull it, along with gear purchased from slowly accumulated savings. The tools of adventure changed as we grew, but the destination stayed the same. We’d call to our mom to say that we were going out. Seeing our gear, she knew where to find us and with nervous acceptance would tell us to be careful. We should have invited her to join us.
I recall standing on its shores, toes wet in a patch of sand laid bare from a collapsed bluff following the last big storm. Eyes closed tight, the heavy air wrapped me in the comfort of life enjoyed on the greatest of Minnesota’s 10,000-plus water bodies. The feel of the drumming river was lost on me in my excitement to climb back up for another go on the rope swing. We didn’t have long. Park rangers were sure to shoo my big brother, our friends and me away. No matter. We’d be back.
I didn’t appreciate the nature of this behemoth of a river, gnawing its way through nearly 500 miles of landscape to get here. From its trickling origins near Bemidji, at the outlet of Lake Itasca, the beast has been largely silent, but in this spot, it finds its voice. The crash of the Mississippi River over the Coon Rapids Dam drums endlessly in the lives of those who call this place home. The extent of its power on dramatic display, its destructive potential can’t easily be dismissed.
The flow of the river marking the divide between Anoka and Hennepin Counties varies drastically, from as little as 3,000 to as much as 31,800 cubic feet per second. It averages just under 8,600 throughout the seasons and years. Put into perspective, that’s an average weight of seven fully loaded semi-trucks plummeting over the dam every second of every day to the end of time. In other terms, its equivalent to the power of a fully loaded freight train with no end and no beginning that may at times amble along at only 31 mph, but may go as fast as 328 mph. No wonder my mom’s instinct was to be nervous as her boys went out the door.
We spent our days exploring what the Mississippi had to offer: vistas to be silently absorbed; overhanging trees from which to swing; fish to fill our stringers and eventually our aching stomachs; shoreland wildlife to be stalked and observed; the exhilaration of skipping across a wake at 40 miles per hour; and the perfect end to each perfect day with an amber painted sky, the encroaching chill of night and the slow rocking of our boat inviting us to slumber. The powerful Goliath of a river took care of my mom’s boys and, in so doing, changed us all in ways we still can’t fully appreciate.
Many years later, and not knowing why, I opted for a career in natural resource management. The river that I took for granted, I sought to understand. The river that took care of me, I sought to nurture. The history we shared, I sought to extend.
My crew and I at the Anoka Conservation District now work with folks along the banks and throughout the watershed to improve water quality, enhance habitat for fish and wildlife, and steel the banks against the river’s untamable power. New adventures await. Perhaps you’ll join us?
Chris Lord is the district manager of the Anoka Conservation District. The ACD, located in Ham Lake, works to conserve and enhance the natural resources of Anoka County through monitoring and analysis, informing landowners and local government in natural resource management, and leveraging technical and financial resources to promote natural resource stewardship practices. Learn more at anokaswcd.org.