A Day Following the St Croix River

The temperature hit 70F (Obviously that is not today as a howling blizzard is going on outside the hotel window), I decided that I would start the day with a hike at William O’Brien State Park located along the St Croix River. Then follow the St Croix River to Hastings, Minnesota where the river finally enters the Mississippi River. I would find a couple of new treasures along the way.

William O’Brien is one of my favorites in the area. I had seen migrating birds for the last two weeks and knew that I could experience a nice hike. In fact there was a trail I had not done before and started off on the two-mile loop in a section of the park that gets little use.

Looking over the bluff meadow at William O’Brien State Park

The trail was dry and I saw cardinals and other small songbirds fluttering in the brush and grassland. A hawk glided over the meadow looking for a meal and then out of sight. The trail alternated between meadow and mature hardwood oak forest. Then dipped into a small marsh area.

I scared up a grouse at this really neat looking fallen tree.

After walking this trail 2.5 mile loop I headed down Highway 95 to Stillwater, MN.

The St Croix all along the way was overflowing its banks. Islands that are visible during other times of the year are now only trees sticking out from the flowing river.

Stillwater had sandbagged the entire river front. I stopped and had coffee at a local bookstore I always stop at when I the area and drank coffee on their deck overlooking the river. I observed a flock of pelicans (15) flying the river valley. Loons were fishing on the river water. Higher up along the river valley ridge I counted several eagles soaring on the updrafts.

After coffee I continued down the highway following the river. The urban expansion of the Twin Cities increasingly encroaching the once large farms of corn and hay fields.

The next stop was Afton State Park. I took a fly fishing tie class there three years ago and wanted to hike down to the river front.


The map of Afton State Park

Bluffs at Afton State Park

St Croix River bluffs at Afton State Park

When I got to the trail next to the river I found a disturbing discovery in the flooded debris, plastic! I am very anti plastic bags as I pull many from the waterways that I paddle while kayaking. This discovery was even more upsetting to me as it seemed that the water contained more than simple bags.  Styrofoam discarded from fishermen, water bottles, fishing bobbers, part of a frisbee and all sorts of unidentifiable very small pieces of plastic.

Soup of debris containing plastic in the St Croix River

Soup of debris containing plastic in the St Croix River

Some of the larger plastic items pulled from the St Croix River at Afton State Park.

Some of the larger plastic items pulled from the St Croix River at Afton State Park

I pulled the items from the river and carried them to a trash can at the picnic site. I wondered if anyone else was concerned about river health? It was shocking to see the such large amounts in such a small area and in a place I always thought to be cleaner than other areas in the world.

What are we leaving to our children and future generations?

When I headed back to my car I saw three deer (a doe and two of last year’s fawns) eating the green grass peeking up out of the ground near the picnic area. The one yearling looked at me and then hid under the picnic table.

Yearling deer at Afton State Park

Yearling deer at Afton State Park

I started back down Highway 95 and came to a Washington County Park – St Croix Bluffs that had access to the St Croix River.

Entrance to St Croix Bluffs

Entrance to St Croix Bluffs

The boat ramp is currently flooded but looks to be a great launching opportunity for canoe or kayak.

Boat Launch at St Croix Bluffs

Boat Launch at St Croix Bluffs

The sun finally pushed the clouds away as I completed the last part of my drive. The St Croix enters the Mississippi River at Hastings, MN.

I had never visited Hastings and was surprised by the old historical downtown area and river front. It looked bright and colorful against the blue clear sky.

Historical Downtown Hastings, MN

Historical Downtown Hastings, MN

Hastings- Mississippi River front

The fast flowing Mississippi River was heading down river to the Louisiana delta. The Spring flood waters had started to recede but still had the local veterans memorial underwater.

This was a wonderful way to spend a nice warm day in Minnesota.

Now, I sit in the hotel and look out at the snow and wind of the blizzard. I am even more thankful for the experiences earlier in the week along the St Croix River.

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