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Gem of a River

Exploring the Cedar River State Water Trail

Inside •Read about the work going into reviving this familiar landmark


Reviving our river – Cedar River coming alive Mower County is one of four counties in Minnesota without a natural lake. That doesn’t mean, however, that locals have had to skip on water recreational fun, especially with the revival in recent years of our Cedar River State Water Trail. Since the first settlers back in the 1850s, the Cedar River and other local waterways have been used for recreation – whether that be using a paddle in a canoe and chugging along in a motorized boat. While the numerous dams built on the Cedar River helped run grain mills and generate power, the backwater created by those structures also offered locals recreational opportunities. Eventually, though, the perspective and use of the Cedar River and other local waterways for recreation receded significantly despite its rich history and beautifully wooded corridor that cuts and winds through the predominantly flat and agricultural landscape. Knowing this, the Cedar River Watershed District staff in 2011 proposed getting the Cedar River designated by the Legislature as an official state water trail under the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources program. The idea got legislative approval



Tim Ruzek

Water Plan & Outreach Coordinator for Mower Soil & Water Conservation District Cedar River Watershed District

that year thanks to the work of local state legislators Sen. Dan Sparks and Rep. Jeanne Poppe as well as support from DNR staff. In spring 2012, the Cedar River officially was launched by the DNR as a “state water trail,” which included fold-out trail maps with various information, including red dots designating every river mile. The designation also led to the creation of a webpage devoted to the Cedar River State Water Trail and for more attention by DNR crews to search for and remove navigational hazards on the river, such as fallen trees. At the same time, Austin’s community improvement initiative, Vision 2020, started 10 citizen committees, including one focused on our local waterways. This effort has led to numerous projects that have raised awareness and improved the Cedar River State Water Trail, Dobbins Creek and other local streams in the watershed.

Work by the Vision 2020 Waterways Committee – including waterways enhancements, water recreation, water quality improvements and water education – now will be continued by the CRWD’s newly revamped Citizens Advisory Committee. A big boost to the Cedar River’s revival then occurred during the 2015 summer with the start of the Cedar River Canoe & Rental Service in Austin. Owned by Brian and Dorothy Pirmantgen, the canoe/kayak rental business – the only outfitter as of now for the Cedar River State Water Trail – has seen steady growth each year, with a major increase in canoe and kayak rentals in 2016, including by visitors to the community. Numerous projects are in the works for enhancing the Cedar River State Water Trail. All of us at CRWD hope you either continue to use or try to get out on the water this season on the Cedar River State Water Trail. We also want your ideas, observations and questions related to our local watershed. There are many great places to enjoy the river and its natural surroundings on the Minnesota side of the Cedar. Go find your favorite Cedar scene this season.

Kayaking on the Cedar River State Water Trail downstream from the Ramsey Dam in June 2017. Photo by Natasha Hillemeier


Access improving on Cedar River State Water Trail Canoeists, kayakers now have easier method of enjoying the river Austin Daily Herald

As water recreation continues to increase on Minnesota’s Cedar River State Water Trail, local officials are seeking ways to add better walk-in access for canoes and kayaks. Last summer, Cedar River Watershed District worked with other partners to open a new canoe-kayak launch at one of the more popular local spots to launch – the stretch of the Cedar River behind Austin’s Marcusen Park baseball stadium in Lafayette Park. Now there is a dedicated access there with a rock surface to enable individuals and groups to get paddling more easily and cleanly on the Cedar River State Water Trail. About 15 of the water trail’s 25 miles in Minnesota – which runs from the Mower County Road 2 near Lansing down to the Iowa border – are downstream from the new Marcusen access. Riverwood Landing – a canoe-kayak access owned and maintained by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources – is about three river miles downstream from the Marcusen access, making a nice option for a paddling trip, said Tim Ruzek, CRWD outreach coordinator. There also is a good access on the Iowa side of the State Line Road bridge over the Cedar River at the border that is open to the public and a nice slope down to the water, he added. Other access plans are in the works, including a request by the city of Austin and CRWD for state bonding funds to support a walk-in access and portage on the Cedar River in downtown Austin to get paddlers safely around the dam at Fourth Avenue Northeast. The steep terrain on the river’s east bank downstream from the dam has made the project more costly than other access sites. CRWD, along with city and county officials, also are continuing to work on acquiring floodprone land along the Cedar River from the Ramsey Dam up to the abandoned railroad bridge at Ramsey Mill Pond. The city also has a state bonding request for enhancing the Ramsey area once more land is under public ownership.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources crew constructing the access on July 25, 2017. commodates groups of paddlers seeking to start paddling at the same time. Its slope with a rocky surface also will allow for safer and less-muddy launches onto the river. Started in summer 2015, Cedar River Canoe & Rental Service of Austin – owned by

Brian and Dorothy Pirmantgen – saw a major increase in canoe and kayak rents in 2016, including out-of-towners. They frequently have used the Lafayette Park/Marcusen Park area for launching paddlers but experienced problems without a dedicated access.

Above, A group prepares to launch a paddling trip in August 2017 at the new Marcusen access thanks to Cedar River Canoe & Kayak Rental Service. Aerial image with yellow star marking the new Marcusen access. Photos provided On Aug. 10, CRWD gathered with its project partners at the Marcusen access to officially open the site for public use. Representatives from Austin Area Foundation; city of Austin; Minnesota DNR; Vision 2020; and Cedar River Canoe & Kayak Rental Service viewed the new access they worked together on with CRWD over the previous year. In late 2016, CRWD was awarded a $2,000 grant from Austin Area Foundation to cover the cost of materials for constructing the new walk-in access under an agreement that the city of Austin’s public works department would design the access and deliver materials for a DNR crew to build the launch, which occurred in late July 2017. CRWD requested the AAF grant to cover the cost of materials for the launch, which now provides an access size that better ac-




River cleanups help all enjoy Cedar more Austin Daily Herald

Dozens of volunteers every year play a big role in helping to improve the Cedar River State Water Trail by picking up trash and debris found in and out of the waterway. Some citizens get in the water to walk and float a stretch of the Cedar River to safely remove a wide array of trash and other types of debris either left there by littering, flooding or other means, such as stormwater drainage and wind. Others wanting to stay out of the water still help greatly by walking shorelines picking up garbage or even in their neighborhoods to keep litter from getting into the storm sewers that lead directly to the Cedar River, Turtle Creek and Dobbins Creek within Austin. Since 2011, CRWD’s Adopt-A-River initiative – inspired by the state’s cleanup program – has involved dozens of volunteers removing several tons of garbage and flood debris, including more than 1,100 tires, from the Cedar River in Mower County. CRWD has created cleanup routes; lined up volunteers; assisted with cleanup logistics; and paid for the proper disposal of the removed items. On Saturday, May 19, the CRWD is coordinating a community cleanup day in the Cedar River Watershed with a crew being provided by the Conservation Corps of Minnesota through a grant funded by the state’s Clean Water Legacy Fund. Members of the public who are interested in helping with cleanup projects that day are encouraged to contact CRWD outreach coordinator Tim Ruzek at 507-434-2603 or tim. Conservation Corps crews in past years helped significantly in the removal of more than 1,100 tires from the Cedar River State Water Trail in Mower County, an effort started in 2011. Volunteers helped remove hundreds of those tires but also assisted letting CRWD staff know about “hot spots” for tire dumping that enabled Conservation Corps member to target those stretches under special projects. Various cleanup routes also are open as part of CRWD’s annual Adopt-A-River program in which specific stretches of the Cedar River State Water Trail and other local streams are “adopted” by volunteers for cleanup at least once a year. CRWD pays for the proper disposal of the garbage removed from the river by volunteers who only need to let staff know where they piled the items. Members of the Austin Rotaract service club have conducted a river cleanup ever



A pair of Austin Rotaract members paddle down the Cedar River during a cleanup of the Cedar River State Water Trail from Ramsey Dam to the Austin Mill Pond downtown as part of the Cedar River Watershed District’s Adopt-A-River program. Photos provided since CRWD started its own Adopt-A-River program in 2011. Rotaract members clean a stretch of the Cedar River from Ramsey Dam near Old Mill Restaurant to the Austin Mill Pond downtown. Several groups assisted with CRWD’s Adopt-A-River in 2017, including CRWD employee Larry Callahan’s organized cleanup with family and friends in late August that cleaned the Cedar River from County Road 5 to County Road 6 in Lyle Township, covering nearly five river miles. The Callahan group has done several cleanups now and has seen a large drop in the amount of litter along that stretch. This past July, the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center staff led a community river cleanup with CRWD’s assistance as part of its annual Water Festival. Volunteers started at the Cedar River-Dobbins Creek confluence in Austin’s Driesner Park and cleaned stretches of Dobbins Creek from there to the East Side Lake Dam and of the Cedar River going upstream to the Second Avenue Northeast bridge. The nature center’s river cleanup attracted more than 20 volunteers, who pulled out 1,560 pounds of trash from the river and creek, including four bicycles; a laptop; lots of scrap metal; and a tape recorder. Also in 2017, Spruce Up Austin volunteers, including Austin High School athletes, conducted another cleanup of the East Side Lake area (part of Dobbins Creek). The Southern Minnesota Bicycling Club and Austin Trail Group also cleaned up the

In August of 2014, clean-up efforts on the Cedar River State Water Trail hit 1,100 tires removed since 2010. Pictured are members of the Conservation Corps displaying some of the tires. wooded areas along the Cedar River and Wolf Creek, west of Austin’s Todd Park. Brookside Campground also cleaned up along the Cedar River from Mower County Road 1 going north about one mile. Cleanup work on the Cedar River – unrelated to the CRWD initiative – also occurred in Iowa in July 2017, with volunteers covering about 55 river miles from the Minneso-

ta-Iowa border through Mitchell and Floyd counties. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Project AWARE – A Watershed Awareness River Expedition – removed 28 tons of trash overall from the Cedar River in Iowa, including 368 tires, 14.9 tons of scrap metal and 2.5 tons of recyclable material, such as cardboard, glass and plastic.


The Canoemobile will be rolling into Austin this May, giving kids the opportunity to experience what the Cedar River has to offer. Photo courtesy of the Canoemobile

Where the road meets the water Canoemobile coming to Austin in May, getting kids on the river Austin Daily Herald

Six, wooden canoes, each holding up to 10 people, will be paddling up and down the Cedar River State Water Trail for several days in May in the Ramsey Mill Pond area. Wilderness Inquiry, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization, is being contracted to bring its Canoemobile program and fleet of six canoes to the Austin-area community for four days of student programming and one community day. CRWD-SWCD chose Ramsey Mill Pond – the largest water body in Mower County at about 53 water acres – for the Canoemobile program to highlight an underused and beautiful part of the Cedar River Watershed. Ramsey Dam on the Cedar River next to the Old Mill Restaurant creates Ramsey Mill Pond, which is surrounded by wooded golf course property and nearly 400 acres of state wildlife management land. Paddlers also will flow under a historic, abandoned railroad bridge over the river. Cedar River Watershed District and Mower Soil & Water Conservation District has worked with Wilderness Inquiry to bring Canoemobile to Mower County. With approval last year from the Mower County Board, CRWD-SWCD staff will use Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) funding provided annually by the state for the Canoemobile program. The goal of the program is to provide education on aquatic invasive species and how

to help prevent their spread in Minnesota waters as well as to engage with and learn about the local environment. All public and private schools based in Mower County have been invited to participate in the student programming provided by Canoemobile, which involves land- and water-based activities. Plans are for three days of programming for all Austin Public Schools fourth-graders as well as one day of programming for fifth- or sixth-graders from Grand Meadow, LeRoy-Ostrander, Southland and Lyle school districts. Pacelli and Sacred Heart private schools also plan to participate on one of those days. Wilderness Inquiry staff will lead the canoeing trips, with one staff member in each canoe. CRWD-SWCD staff will help provide land-based programming on those days. On Saturday, May 12, the Austin Community Day for the Canoemobile program will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in an open-house format at no charge for members of the public to experience a paddling trip of about 15 to 30 minutes into the Ramsey Mill Pond area in one of the large canoes. More details will be provided closer to the Canoemobile dates in May. Every year, Canoemobile travels to 45 cities and engages 25,000 youth. For more information, contact CRWDSWCD outreach coordinator Tim Ruzek at 507-434-2603 or

Canoers will get the opportunity to head up this stretch of the Cedar River when the Canoemobile program comes through town. Herald file photo AUSTIN DAILY HERALD  CEDAR RIVER STATE WATER TRAIL



CRWD bringing back Cedar Scenes contest in May Over 300 images were submitted in 2017

Watershed-themed gallery returning to ArtWorks

Austin Daily Herald

After receiving more than 300 images over 16 weeks in 2017, the Cedar River Watershed District’s inaugural photo contest concluded last fall with a local paddler receiving a free kayak. In October, April Murphy of Austin, received in October a kayak sponsored by the Austin Runnings store as the grand prize of the Cedar Scenes contest. Murphy was one of 59 people who submitted photos showcasing scenes within the CRWD’s boundaries to have a chance at being selected by staff for a weekly prize and have up to two entries per week for the kayak drawing. Murphy submitted numerous photos, mostly of fishing and kayaking on the Cedar River State Water Trail in Austin. Austin Runnings manager Everett Hackensmith drew Murphy’s name during a CRWD Facebook live video of the kayak drawing at the Runnings store. Due to the high levels of participation last year, CRWD will relaunch Cedar Scenes as a 20-week photo contest in 2018, starting May 14 through Sept. 30, covering much of the paddling season. CRWD staff also enjoyed how the contest connected them with river enthusiasts and made them aware of various things happening in the watershed. As part of its 10th anniversary in 2017,

Austin Daily Herald

One of the Cedar Scenes weekly winners, April Murphy’s photo of people fishing June 1 at “The Point,” which is the confluence of Dobbins Creek and the Cedar River State Water Trail in Austin’s Driesner Park. Photos provided CRWD launched the weekly photo contest to encourage the public to take photos or send in older images that showcase the Cedar River and other local waterways within the district. Although the Cedar River was the biggest focal point, photos submitted in 2017 featured other waterways, including Dobbins Creek; Wolf Creek, Orchard Creek, Murphy Creek, and Mud Creek. The most-popular areas were Ramsey Mill Pond, Austin Mill Pond, East Side Lake, the stretch of the Cedar upstream from Interstate 90 and the Lafayette Park area. CRWD offered weekly prizes for the best Left, April Murphy receives a kayak from the Austin Runnings store, which she won after her name was drawn as part of the CRWD’s inaugural Cedar Scenes photo contest on Oct. 11. The kayak was presented by CRWD and Runnings staff at the new Marcusen canoe-kayak access in Austin. Right, One of the Cedar Scenes weekly winners, Jill DeMoss’ picture of ducks on a rock in August 2017 at East Side Lake in Austin.



A gallery of Cedar River Watershed shots will once again be displayed at the Austin ArtWorks Center. Photo provided

submitted photo as chosen by CRWD staff, mostly involving $10 in Chamber Bucks to use at most area businesses along with a goodie bag provided by Discover Austin. Some businesses donated weekly gift card prizes, including Cedar River Canoe & Kayak Rental Service, B&J Bar & Grill and Brookside Campground. Each submitted photo – a weekly limit of two photos per person – counted as an entry into the drawing for the kayak sponsored by Runnings. To view Cedar Scenes photos and more, visit the CRWD’s Facebook page at: www.

Artwork depicting water in the Cedar River Watershed in Minnesota will be showcased as part of a six-week gallery exhibit opening April 20 in downtown Austin. The Austin ArtWorks Center had sought public entries of 2-D and 3-D visual art for the “Reviving Our River” exhibit set to run through June 1 in its second-floor gallery. Submitted work – such as paintings, drawings and photography – had to include a scene showing water from a location in the Cedar River Watershed in Minnesota. A gallery opening for the Cedar River-themed exhibit is slated for 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on April 20. Cedar River Watershed District is co-sponsoring the gallery with the ArtWorks Center, which is operated by the nonprofit Austin Area Commission for the Arts (AACA). CRWD and AACA partnered in 2016 on a similar gallery show focused on Cedar River Watershed scenes. CRWD plans to showcase some of the photographs it received in 2017 through its inaugural “Cedar Scenes” weekly contest that attracted more than 300 images of the local watershed from 59 people. “Artists have been inspired by nature for centuries, and local artists are no exception,” said Laura Helle, executive director of the Austin Area Commission for the Arts. “We are proud to support a healthy watershed by celebrating the beauty of the many waterways in the district as seen through the eyes of those local artists.” The Austin ArtWorks Center showcases local arts, provides arts enrichment to children and adults, and fosters a community of artists and art lovers. It hosts Mower County’s only public clay studio and has exhibits on its main and second floors that host gallery shows for professional and emerging artists as well as private collectors. Cedar River’s watershed consists of numerous waterways, including Austin Mill Pond downtown, Ramsey Mill Pond, East Side Lake, Dobbins Creek, Turtle Creek, Wolf Creek (Todd Park), Roberts Creek, Rose Creek, Little Cedar River, Ramsey Creek, Orchard Creek and Otter Creek, among others.


CRWD named Watershed District of the Year Austin Daily Herald

With its numerous projects focused on improved water quality and reduced flooding, the Cedar River Watershed District received the 2017 Watershed District of the Year award for Minnesota in December. Nominated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the watershed district was given the statewide honor during the annual convention of the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts (MAWD) in Alexandria. Justin Hanson, CRWD administrator, accepted the award along with CRWD project manager Cody Fox and board member Mike Jones, who has served on CRWD’s Board of Managers since its inception in 2007. “This is an incredible honor to be recognized at this level by our peers and partners,” Hanson said. “It’s a reflection of the hard work and team effort put forward by our staff and board but we would not be in this position without outstanding agricultural producers and landowners and other partners.” Todd Piepho, an area hydrologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, nominated CRWD for this year’s award, recognizing the district’s numerous efforts to improve water quality and reduce flooding within its 435 square miles of land in Mower, Dodge, Freeborn and Steele counties. Under the nomination, CRWD was recognized for various work related to water regulation, water-quality improvement projects, water monitoring, flood-damage reduction, community engagement and watershed planning. Among these efforts is the CRWD’s ongoing five-year, $8.4 million Capital Improvement Project (CIP) focused on build-

We Are Water MN exhibit. Photo provided

Cedar River part of the cupcoming ‘We Are Water’ tour Austin Daily Herald

Cedar River Watershed District staff in 2017, from left: Jeanne Crump, James Fett, Steve Lawler, Aaron Gamm, Justin Hanson, Cody Fox, Tim Ruzek and Larry Callahan. Photo provided

ing 25 structures in farm fields to temporarily retain stormwater and stabilize ravines along the Cedar River State Water Trail and within the Dobbins Creek subwatershed. In 2012, CRWD also received the Watershed Program of the Year award from MAWD. DNR officials also nominated CRWD for that award partly due to the CRWD staff’s extensive work on alternative agricultural drainage demonstration projects with the University of Minnesota and other groups. Now in its 10th year, CRWD was formed in 2007 by local and state officials in response to the Austin area’s two worstknown floods in 2000 and 2004. CRWD’s top priorities are flood reduction and water-quality improvement.


“This is an incredible honor to be recognized at this level by our peers and partners.” Justin Hanson CRWD adminstrator

Cedar River Watershed will be showcased as one of eight host sites for the upcoming 2018-2019 statewide tour of the We Are Water MN traveling exhibit. Austin and the Cedar River Watershed are scheduled to host the exhibit in spring 2019 – more than a year from now – from late April to mid-June at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center. Cedar River Watershed District led the local effort to bring We Are Water MN to Austin in its second-ever tour, with the nature center agreeing to partner on the project and host the exhibit in 2019. Some of the partner organizations assisting with planning include Austin Utilities, Mower County Historical Society; Discover Austin, Hormel Foods Corp. and the Austin Human Rights Commission. CRWD outreach coordinator Tim Ruzek and watershed technician James Fett took part in a We Are Water MN training in October at the Humanities Center in St. Paul. They since have been working with nature center director Luke Reese and teacher/naturalist Maria Anderson. During 13 months in 2018 and 2019, the exhibit will visit eight Minnesota communities, including Minneapolis, Bemidji, Crookston, Cloquet, Austin, Northfield, Grand Rapids and Onamia. More information about We Are Water MN and host site community events can be found at water.






Gem of a River: Exploring the Cedar River State Water Trail  

Read about the work going into reviving this familiar landmark. Austin Daily Herald.

Gem of a River: Exploring the Cedar River State Water Trail  

Read about the work going into reviving this familiar landmark. Austin Daily Herald.