Monday, December 28, 2009

Frozen, but not forgotten

A visit to the rivers of Minnesota this time of year is more likely to require a pair of snowshoes than a kayak. That makes it a good time to snoop around the web for issues and ideas related to the care and conservation of waterways.

So where does all that water go? There’s a lot of talk about water shortages, lately, especially in the western states. Here’s an article from the Denver Post that illustrates how dramatically water consumption can vary from one city or region to another.

Closer to home. The voter-approved Clean Water and Legacy Amendment created funding that has been recently awarded to a number of conservation and restoration projects across Minnesota. See a brief synopsis of the projects here, provided by the Post-Bulletin in Rochester, MN.

Some tips about conservation during your holiday entertaining and beyond. I found this conversation about basic conservation at News Channel 8 in Austin, Texas. (Commercial pre-roll may be required.) Or, if you prefer reading the story instead of watching video, click here.

A dark anniversary for the TVA coal ash disaster. One year later, the Tennessee Valley Authority spill near Knoxville didn’t get a whole lot of press. But I did come across a few stories on the topic… and looking at the spill’s impact on people, communities, regulations, and the EPA. One from the West Virginia Gazette... and another from the Associated Press.

Making it look easy. On more than a couple occasions, I’ve written here about the complexity of restoring a river… especially when the project is big enough to impact much of California. But here’s a great little web site that explains the San Joaquin River Restoration process, including a photo tour.

© 2009 Mike Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

More clippings from the web on matters of conservation

Undoing what’s been done can come with challenges. I’ve been following the story about restoring flows to the San Joaquin River in California. This story from the Fresno Bee newspaper explains why simply “refilling the river” isn’t enough. The water table has been left to dry for years… meaning underground reservoirs must also be restored before the river can be completely revitalized.

If you’re a fan of nature, you’re probably a fan on Ansel Adams. So you’ll probably like this story I came across from The Bulletin, in Philadelphia.

EPA vows more rigid enforcement of the Clean Water Act. The Act, created in 1972, is useless without compliance. So I was delighted to hear that its rules—and reasons—are being revisited. To learn more, see this story from the New York Times (10.15.09). For a primer on the Clean Water Act, click here.

A by-product of free trade. Must commentary has been offered about the manufacturing jobs that have been exported to Mexico since the 1990s. But building all kinds of new factories comes with a cost: it has also placed heavy stress on Mexico’s natural resources. See this story from Arizona Central about the man-made reservoirs that are swallowing-up many small towns and other lands across the Mexican landscape.

Closer to home…

Have you heard of “Project Conserve?” This article from Star News shares insights from a family that is participating—and learning—about how to reduce, re-use and recycle in a number of new ways. Best regards to the Harvey family for setting a great example for all of us… from their home in Elk River, Minnesota.

Something fishy is going on again. Earlier this month, I wrote about the evolving Asian Carp problem; the non-native species have been introduced to fresh water sources in the U.S., and now threaten the Great Lakes. Well, down in Florida, they’ve been dealing with a similar issue… except that the non-native species is a variety of Piranha. See this story from the Palm Beach Post, or see the video immediately below.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Interesting headlines from around the web

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Officials in Dakota and Scott counties in Minnesota are trying to unify in the protection of the Vermillion River just south of the Twin Cities. As someone who often operates alone on the water, I can tell you that there is strength is numbers, so this is nice to see. And you can see more in this story from the Pioneer Press.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is targeting farm run-off into the Mississippi River. There are 41 problem watersheds up and down the river, from its headwaters to New Orleans. Read more about it in this story from the Associated Press.

A very cool site worth sharing: The River Alliance of Wisconsin. Just thought you might appreciate a peek at this grass-roots organization: Click here to visit.

The Asian Carp issue has gone from special interest to mainstream news story. And it shows what can happen when man messes with the ecosystem. Click here to see the USA Today story about about how this predator-free fish now threatens the Great Lakes. Or, see this video from the USA Today story:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Getting back into the flow

It seems like forever since I was granted the time to write a bit about the river and my time on it. Indeed, it has been a month and a half since my last posting (10.15.09). I would apologize, but most readers stop here only once in a great while, or casually happen across my blog when browsing for a related topic; the person most deprived by my lack of attention to this writing is myself. There is no doubt that I take more from this experience than anyone who visits.

The year has thrown many obstacles our way this year. Lately, there have been two culprits. My spare time—what there is of it—has been consumed by the renovation of our lower level; we were going to start with just my office, but expanded the project to include a family room. But mostly, it seems like work has been particularly intense. In my line of work, as with so many other people, the economy placed additional demands on my supply of time and energy.

But I’ve denied myself enough writing time. Work does not own me 24 hours a day, and if home improvement leaves me no time to indulge in the river, then it’s not really improving much. So the break is over. There has never been a lack of time spent thinking or reflecting on this topic that I favor. But now, too, I re-commit to preserving more time to capture more of those thoughts in word… and to getting the companion blog I’ve thought about ready by the end of this year.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Water, and passion, will always find their place

I enjoy spending time on the water. I mean, I really enjoy riding the current of the river, soaking-up all of the scenery, wildlife and serenity that tend to be found along the shoreline. The whole idea of restoration—conservation and removing debris from the river—simply helps me justify the amount of time that I try to spend on the water.

It never seems like enough time. But this year, my river miles were even fewer because of the muscle problems and surgery that stood in the way. And going forward, the odds are good that my physical work on the river will be a little less aggressive, long term. That doesn’t mean I won’t be picking up debris and continuing my geo-trashing work. It just means I probably won’t be lugging appliances, construction debris or safes up the riverbank anytime soon.

That’s why I spent a good part of September reflecting on the emails I had received about our project in recent months (see the posts below). And it’s why I’ve been thinking about ways I can make good use of this blog, beyond reporting on my personal activities. For starters, I’m going to start reporting more on the activities of others… and sharing news about river issues, restoration projects and conservation groups that are at work all over the country, and all over North America. I’m going to use the web to gather relevant stories, and I’ll post quick access to those stories here.

Now… what of the passion I have for the scenery, wildlife and serenity of the river and woods? Well, I have an idea for that, too: I’m going to do what I can to hone my writing skills and photography techniques… in an effort to capture and share some of the sights I have seen and places I have been. You see, it occurred to me that anyone who finds their way to is already rather passionate about the topic of river stewardship; any story I post here, advocating conservancy, is pretty much “preaching to the choir.”

I have realized that conservation begins with appreciation. Someone who hunts, fishes, hikes, climbs, paddles or camps does not need to be told how valuable our natural resources are; they have been there, and seen that. Thus, if I can encourage more people to visit the shoreline, walk the trail, or notice the forest… matters of conservation will come naturally to those people. Those people, and the places they visit, will be enriched. will remain a blog focused on matters of river restoration and clean-up. But watch for a new "companion site," coming soon, which will ask people to notice and appreciate... places. And with that appreciation, perhaps natural conservation will follow.

Like water, passion finds a way to reach its destination. And one of mine is waiting just outside.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Not by air, not by land, and certainly not by river or sea.

Most of my interest in river conservation and restoration has to do with what I can physically see, reach, and remove… or at least inventory so the debris can be removed later. However, there is a story in today’s New York Times which reminds me of those things I cannot see.

The article focuses on a coal plant in Masontown, Pennsylvania. But a correlating side-bar offered by the NY Times shows that what’s happening in that community could be happening somewhere close to yours. According to the story, it seems that in their quest to reduce air pollution, the plant was using water to “scrub” the emissions, but then releasing the contaminated water into a local river.

Just so we’re clear, I don’t consider myself anything near an activist, and I certainly have nothing against the coal industry. I believe our future must be fueled by a wide variety of energy solutions, including solar, wind, wave, bio-fuels… and yes, hopefully, even clean coal (if we can eventually get that figured out). But I point this article out to you as a reminder that, apparently, not everyone is abiding to the rules set forth by the Clean Water Act.

Sometimes, citizens need to be vocal about these matters. After all, the driving idea behind the Clean Water Act is that the few and powerful should not profit… by damaging or destroying a water resource that belongs to all. Moving pollution from the air to the water is not an upgrade.

© 2009 Michael Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sometimes, it is the thought that counts

On September 19, the St. Michael/Albertville River Team (aka, S.M.A.R.T.), hit the shorelines for their annual clean-up. This being our first year living in St. Michael, I would love to have been involved. But because it was less than a month after surgery—I wasn’t cleared for kayaking yet—I was not in a position, physically, to join in. Further, that was the weekend before our youngest son was going to leave for basic and specialty training for the National Guard… so there were important going-away festivities which took priority for me.

Since moving to St. Michael, I’ve been fortunate to make the acquaintance of long-time Crow River steward, Curt Oien. We met through our mutual acquaintance, Paul Nordell, who oversees the Adopt-a-River program for the Minnesota DNR. Curt and I have had several e-mail conversations, plus a few phone calls, and on one occasion were able to spend a half-day paddling on the Crow River.

Curt knew that I had wanted to get involved with the fall clean-up. But he also knew the circumstances which would prevent my being there.

Last week, I got in touch with Curt to see if he could get together and review some photos that I had taken over the summer, on my four different excursions down the Crow River. (I’m thinking about entering a photo contest sponsored by the Crow River Watershed District, and wanted his input on which pictures I should use.)

When I arrived, Curt presented me with a t-shirt from the fall clean-up. He said, “When they were handing-out the t-shirts, I claimed a couple extras, as there were two people that I knew had been involved with clean-ups on the Crow River this summer, but who could not be there for the fall project.” I was delighted to have the shirt… and glad that he realized how badly I wanted to be there.

You meet the coolest people on the river.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A word about true service to others

I've one more letter I would like to share, this one arriving shortly after our project received a Heroes of Conservation award from Field & Stream magazine. That short article led a guy by the name of Justin to discover our site, our project, and our passion. It is a passion he shares, according to his letter:


I just wanted to let you know that what you are doing is great.Probably more important than the trash you remove yourself is theattention you are bringing to the cause.

As an avid fisherman I canappreciate the work you are putting into your area. Incidentally I havehad the privilege of fishing on the St. Croix once myself, it's where Icaught my one and only sturgeon.

Something my dad taught me at a young age was too always take more trashthan you bring. Every fishing trip I take ends in a walk up and downthe bank to remove whatever I see. Unfortunately my clean-up effortsare restricted to places my feet can take me, but I think things arelooking a little cleaner here in the waterways in and around Fort Riley, Kansas.

Keep up the good work, I'm sure you know that your efforts areappreciated and enjoyed by many!

SSG Justin Tryggestad
Currently serving in the U.S. Army

Of course, a note like this would be gratifying at anytime, from anyone. But Julie and I appreciated this especially, because Justin is currently serving all of us.

We're particularly sensitive to that, because this weekend, we are having a going-away party for our youngest son, Zachary, who will depart for basic training next week... with the Minnesota Army National Guard.

As parents, we are both nervous about his departure and very proud of his decision. Zach, as he explains it, is "...looking forward to being a part of something that is bigger than himself." In other words, his sign-up is the pursuit of service.

I wrote back to Mr. Tryggestad shortly after receiving his note, and let him know of our son's pending adventure. He replied by saying, "Tell your son, welcome to the team!"

So, to Justin Tryggestad: We loved the letter, Justin. It is nice of you to acknowledge our project, even as it is so small, in comparison to the sacrifice and service you and people like you are offering to all of us. Thank you.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

More than a social network; a socially responsible network!

Recently, I've received a couple of fantastic notes from river advocates (see the letter from Brian Finstad immediately below). Another example of an ideal outcome came together because of Shannon in St. Paul. She dropped a note to me back in July, with a simple request:

Hi Mike!

I came across your website through googling river clean-up projects in the Twin Cities. I enjoyed reading your site and appreciate the work that you are doing to educate people on cleaning-up and caring for our waterways. I would like to organize a river clean up in the St. Paul area and wondered if you had any ideas for me. I'm coordinating this event for a church in the Grand Ave area... We expect 30-50 people to volunteer for this event. The date we were hoping to do this is 9/12/09. We have access to a large truck and a trailer. Any ideas would be welcome!

I look forward to hearing back from you!


Shannon's request specified a part of the south-metro watershed that I am less than familiar with. But thankfully, I knew that the Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) are more than familiar with the area... so I introduced Shannon, via email, to a few folks at FMR. Turns out that she recognized a couple of those names... and followed-up on that suggestion. And today, Shannon was kind enough to send me a follow-up note today... letting me know that her group had arranged a clean-up expedition to the Vermillion River watershed, with the help of those folks at FMR.

I find it comforting that so many groups in Minnesota are concerned about and working for the protection of so many waterways. When I didn't have the information that someone like Shannon was looking for, it's nice to know that someone at FMR, or the DNR, or Minnesota Waters, or C.R.O.W., or the St. Croix River Association... among all those authentic river stewards, someone will have the answers!

The letters you love to get

There are a number of reasons that I enjoy writing this little blog about river restoration. First, it helps me organize my thoughts... and leave a trail of bread crumbs over the path we've come. But no less important is the fact that people stumble across this blog from time to time, and either contribute or take away ideas... or simply share memories about how they've enjoyed the outdoors, or why river stewardship is important to them. Here's an example, which I received not long ago from Brian Finstad of Minneapolis:

Dear Mike,

I discovered your blog doing some Google searches to find out more about the Mississippi in Minneapolis. I have lived in Minneapolis four years now, and it seems that Minneapolis has a love affair with its water, but usually the focus is on the lakes. Although I love rivers, for some reason, I have had very little "connection" with the Mississippi in MPLS until this year. I myself grew up in Gordon, Wisconsin near the headwaters of the St. Croix. In my early memories, I remember my father pointing at the river in front of our house and telling me that water went "ALLLL THE WAY TO THE MISSISSIPPI" which in a child's mind was a place very distant and exotic. (LOL!)
Since I moved to MPLS, about once a year I would walk the Stone Arch Bridge. Then I spent an afternoon transfixed on the river from the Endless Bridge at the Guthrie. That made me "read up" on the fascinating history of St. Anthony Falls. From that point the river came more and more into my consciousness and I began to explore. Lakes are pretty, but rivers have movement and have more ties with history and travel - the imagination. Next I started walking up the river past the Post Office, under the Hennepin Bridge, and along the Rice Parkway. All very beautiful.
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised that there was so much nice area along the river front - but what I love more than anything is an underdog. I love the idea of taking something that is completely neglected, forgotten, or broken down, and turning it into something wonderful. What really excited me was when I discovered the area of river above Plymouth Avenue. Beautiful views of downtown. Some good stuff obviously happening there, but yet still an "undiscovered" treasure. I figured there must have been some planning process in place for the recent improvements that have taken place there. Some "Googling" brought me to the "Above the Falls" Master Plan. I fell in love. Transforming the neglected, abused, industrial river front somehow just sparks my imagination. And providing North Minneapolis, as equally neglected and abused as the River, with a water front to embrace, recreate, and enjoy. I think of the population that lives in a very short radius of this stretch of river and think of all of the human capacity to build a momentum behind this plan. And yet, it feels as if the "Above the Falls" plan, and that part of the river in general, is just for some reason outside of the consciousness of most Minneapolitans.
I know I am making a short story long, but other Google searches led me to read about your clean-up of this stretch of the river. I just wanted to thank you for being a force of good for this stretch of the Mississippi. It has captured my heart and I hope to make a regular practice of doing some clean up there myself. I took my nephew there tonight for a starter. Thank you for inspiring me!


Brian Finstad


Editor's note: I am reminded that conservation begins with appreciation. Those with an emotional or recreational attachment to a waterway... are the most likely to be her caretaker. Thanks for the kind words, Brian.


Good news from the good doctor

Two weeks and two days after surgery, I've been cleared for a few upcoming work-related travel assignments. And I've been told that I can get back into a kayak within the next two to three weeks (on the condition that I get help putting it on or taking it off the roof of the truck).

Sounds like my days of personally dragging safes, air conditioners or appliances out of the water are over. But that just means I'll have to refine the "recruitment" part of our GeoTrashing strategy. And it's a nice consolation that I'll be back on the water--and back to basic cleanups--within a few weeks. (Hopefully, before the cold weather sets in.)

Life is good.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Debris as artifact

Back in the middle of June, I took my first kayak run down the Crow River near St. Michael. By that time, I had engaged in an email exchange with a gentleman by the name of Curt Oien, who has many spent years, paddled many miles, and conducted many clean-ups on the Crow over the last seven years or so.

My run was quite simple, putting in near Berning’s Mill bridge, and paddling against the current until I made it a mile or two upstream.

Among the few debris items I found that day: A fragment from a pottery crock. This is the only piece of the crock I found… but it holds the number “2,” meaning that it held two gallons of either butter, lard, or other commodity. And beneath the numeral, the partial stamp of a red wing, indicating that it came from the Red Wing pottery company in Red Wing, Minnesota. (I found the photo of a full-sized Red Wing butter crock on e-Bay. You can enlarge either photo by simply clicking on the picture.)

Obviously, the fragment is worth nothing. But a Red Wing crock like this--if intact--can fetch hundreds of dollars to collectors. The Red Wing pottery company was a big business in the early years of Minnesota, and its products have avid fans to this day... my wife among them. (There is even a Red Wing Collector's Society.)

The crock chip supported Curt’s assertion that much of the debris in the Crow River was put there by early settlers and farmers… who often discarded items there, knowing the river would magically wash it all away. This was, of course, long before any environmental movement had taken hold, so there was no malicious intent to the practice. The earth was young, wide-open, and self-renewing, from their perspective. Resources were to be used… and it was better to place trash in the river that pollute the precious fields and farm land they had worked so hard to clear of trees. Again… all of this was more a reflection of environmental ignorance than apathy.

The find was a reminder that generations—indeed, ages—have lived and died along the banks of our waterways, drinking from the water, hunting among the wildlife that did the same, using the waterways for irrigation and agriculture... and disposing in the river those items that were no longer useful. Consider the full length of the north fork, south fork, and confluent Crow River... or the mighty Mississippi she spills into. From the headwaters at Itasca, to the Gulf of Mexico, how many cities, towns, farms and settlements have burdened the rivers with their debris during the period we would call, civilization?

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Saint Croix Six (plus one)

Here's the crew Alyssa assembled for a Labor Day weekend trash sweep on the St. Croix River. From left to right in the back row: Guy, Karen, Aaron, Alyssa, Amelia, and Jason. (Photos by Alyssa: Click on any picture to enlarge it.)

Front row: Bishop the beagle.

I admired the ingenuity of the group... like Guy, who brought along wire hangers to snag soda cans that were just out-of-reach.

In the end, the group gathered soda cans, water bottles, two diapers, a flip-flop, and other miscellaneous trash. But along the way, they were treated to some fun, some beautiful scenery, and some campfire memories at the end of their voyage. (Including the way Bishop hijacked Aaron's canoe chair.)

I enjoyed the idea that a group of young folks set-out to keep a clean-up going when I had to step out of our planned event last weekend. I hope they enjoy the memories of their day on the river... as much as I enjoy mine.


My theory was great, even if my execution (and lack of patience) was flawed

Two years ago now, I was putting the finishing touches on an approach to river cleaning that we now call “Geo-Trashing.” It’s a simple process: Since I could not carry heavy debris out of the river via kayak, I would capture digital photos of the debris, along with their GPS waypoint location, and create an inventory of large “trash targets” that need to be removed from the river (most specifically, the Mississippi River). After nearly two years of work, I was able to create a strong inventory of the dumped objects along a 9.7-mile stretch of the Mississippi.

The good news: Timothy Brown from the Minneapolis Parks and Rec department built our maps into a riverside re-development project, which could help remove those targets over the next three to five years. (Mission accomplished!)

The bad news: Patience is not my virtue. The idea behind Geo-Trashing is that, “If I couldn’t lift it, I would at least create a list of what needs to be removed, and then hope to recruit teams or community groups who could remove the debris.” That’s a great theory… but tired of waiting for those groups to appear and get involved, I started removing the junk myself. And that’s one significant reason (although there are others) that the tear in my stomach muscles went from simply “annoying,” to requiring surgical repair. In fact, I can think back to a single instance where things began to deteriorate: When I was attempting roll one of the emptied “safes” we had found up a rather steep riverbank/spillway. (I shot video of that project… and you can see what went wrong at about 2:45 into this clip.) At one point, the safe started to roll back on me… and it was all downhill after that.

I have a post-op appointment this week, in which I’ll hear about what I can or cannot do for the rest of this season. My surgery was on 8/24, and my goal was to be on a plane within a week (for work), on a stage within three weeks (again, for work), and on a kayak within four to five weeks. But I’ll only do that last one if it’s “Dr. approved.”

Geo-Trashing remains a great approach to helping solve water pollution, especially for those of us who are getting older, and would still like to make a contribution to the cause, even if we can’t be the ones to do the heavy-lifting. The practice could become even more relevant to me in the coming seasons, if I learn my physical abilities will be limited in any way, for risk of recurrence. But I’ll have to work on my discipline. Once you know where junk has been dumped in a waterway, it’s hard to not just jump into the process of getting it out of there. I should not be surprised that Mother Nature decided to intervene, teach me this lesson about self-discipline, and re-acquaint me with my limitations.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Today, my thoughts (and my daughter) are on the St. Croix

For two years now, I’ve had great ambitions to create a larger-scale clean-up of the St. Croix River… that would be called “The Dash for Trash.” The original idea was to start small, with a group of committed river stewards, who would clean about an 18-miles stretch of the St. Croix River, starting at Interstate State Park near Taylors Falls, Minnesota, and flowing south to William O’Brien State Park. After we've studied the route and measured the effort and resources required, we would recruit a larger team... with perhaps dozens of people and canoes. However, last year this project became a casualty of the challenge and loss faced by our family, and this year, I had to call it off because I would be physically unable to do it.

Well, my daughter called last week with a suggestion. Alyssa, all along, has been one of the biggest fans of the Dash for Trash idea (she loves anything that sounds like a festival)! She had been speaking with a few of her friends and co-workers, and announced that they would like to go ahead with a St. Croix River clean-up, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. (The photo here is of Alyssa on the Mississippi; click on it to enlarge the photo.)

I got in touch with Amy Frischmon at Wild Mountain/Taylors Falls Canoe Rental, to see if she’d be interested in outfitting the group. (Amy had offered to be an outfitter for the original “Dash for Trash” idea.) She said she’d be pleased to provide the shuttle service, canoes, paddles and PFDs the group would need. Amy, I can’t thank you enough for your help. As I’ve said before, it is clear that you don’t just make your living in the beautiful St. Croix River Valley… you give life back to it, too.

So, today, my daughter is on the St. Croix River, soaking-up some sunshine and picking-up some trash. I’d really like to be along, paddling right there with them. But if that’s not in the cards, it’s really nice to see my daughter and her friends working on the water… and keeping it well.
© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Our Pungo kayaks return to their source, eager to find their next adventure

Back in early August, when it was clear that my season of river work would end early, I decided that it would be prudent to turn-in the pair of kayaks that were on loan to us from Joe’s Sporting Goods in St. Paul. For those not familiar with this relationship, Joe Rauscher is the gentleman who got in touch with us back in early 2008… when KARE 11 first aired a story about our project. He also submitted our project to the publishers of Field & Stream, which led to our selection as Heroes of Conservation, as explained in the July, 2009 issue of their magazine.

Joe wanted to help us in our river clean-up work, and provided us with two “Wilderness Systems” kayaks (14-foot Pungo’s, to be precise). He recommended these particular kayaks for two very specific reasons. When I was working on the Mississippi, I would often find myself working with or against the current, near bridge trusses, spillways, piers or a wide variety barely-submerged hazards. The Pungos offered good primary stability (they didn’t tip easily side-to-side), their size offered additional stability (and great “trash” cargo space), and they skimmed across of the water very well, making them useful even in the shallows where most garbage was beached.

As much as I loved this great pair of kayaks, it made little sense to retain these boats when it was clear my next significant clean-ups would not happen until at least 2010. So I packed the two kayaks up and delivered them back to Joe’s. Certainly, it won’t be my last trip to the store! I’ve already purchased one other kayak from Joe’s Sporting Goods (and open-bow Mad River kayak/canoe hybrid), as well as the racks that hold my boats to the roof of my Xterra.

Every time I’ve been in touch with Joe or one of his staff, I’ve been rewarded with encouragement for our project (and some great tips that have helped me avoid mistakes in the field). I thought one more thank-you would be appropriate here. Joe, I appreciate everything you’ve done and continue to do to help keep our rivers, parks, trails, and other natural resources protected… for all of us to enjoy.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A really nice day on the river

It was Sunday, August 23, 2009… and I finally got a chance to take another good, honest trip down the Crow River. So many things were important to me about this trip, and I will share them here, in no particular order of significance.

The trip was important because I knew the next day I would be undergoing surgery. Nothing life-threatening, by any means… but muscle repairs that have kept me off the water most of this year, and which threaten to keep me away for the balance of the season. It would be only my fourth trip of the summer, and potentially my last. My wife, Julie, has been a careful nurse the past several weeks, making sure I don’t “over-do it,” and limiting my trips. It is for my own good, I know, and I also realize how hard it has been for her to play the role of police… because she knows how much I enjoy my time on the water, and hates to be the person that suggests I should stay away from it. "But today, I will go for the two- to three-hour trip I’ve been waiting weeks for."

This voyage was significant, too, because the day marked one year since we lost my dad, W. Eugene Anderson. The river remains a good place for us to have a private talk. Dad was a Navy man. Anytime I am near the water, I feel near him.

I noted the depth of the Crow. After voluminous rains moved through our area recently, the height of the water had swallowed-up boulders and logs that were obstacles during my last trip down the river. Places where I was made to walk my kayak before—because the shallows were not enough to float it—are now up to two or three feet deep… offering only a riffle of evidence that they still lurk beneath the surface.

All of those logs were perches, before, where turtles would sun themselves, or where herons and dragonflies could land. Very few rocks are available now… and any logs that still offer an exposed surface are crowded with painted turtles or large soft-shells. There is significant competition for any reachable, dry real estate.

The depth of the water added to the weight of the river, and the natural pull of gravity made it lunge toward the Mississippi even faster than usual. So in a way, I was cheated from the three hours I had hoped to spend on the water; the velocity reduced the length of my trip to only two hours. My memory had to work quickly, gathering mental pictures that would have to endure, perhaps, until next season.

When it has been a long time since your last trip down the river, or when you know it could be a long time before your next, one tends to look at the waterway with a different lens. On this day I took few pictures… partly because not much wildlife was visible, and partly because my eyes were soaking everything up, leaving little time to focus on the camera.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

I no longer have surgery in my future

My apologies for letting this site go virtually dormant for most of July & August. But the surgery I was hoping to delay until delay until November would not wait; the surgeon to whom I was referred strongly suggested “the sooner the better,” and I was into an operating room by last Monday.

At risk of boring the reader, the muscle damage was greater than expected. The final diagnosis was something like "complete, direct, bilateral inguinal hernia" (tears in the muscle that makes up the lower abdominal wall). The "bilateral" part means that the injuries were on both the left and right sides of my abdomen, essentially requiring two different surgeries… and I elected to have both done at the same time. As a bonus, the surgeon also found significant damage to the muscles that compose the abdominal floor. In fact, when everything was over, he referred to those muscles as “obliterated” during three separate conversations. (I did not realize that "obliterated" was a medical term!)

So, a simple repair turned into a major reconstruction, and I am thankful for the work done by both my surgeon and primary physician. What could have been a same-day surgery turned into a brief hospital stay. By today (Thursday), I’m feeling a lot better than Monday and Tuesday, but still moving very slow, and benefiting from various pain relievers.

My reason for sharing these details is not to be gross or to elicit sympathy. On the contrary, these developments could likely result in a significant change to the way I pursue conservancy in the future, and I would hope that my experience might also inspire a small but important change in the way anyone else executes trash removal and river restoration. (Hint: Team lift and know your limits!)

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A shortened season

No matter how passionate you are about a personal project, there are times when it simply has to be set aside so one can focus on more urgent or important things. For example, our relocation this year consumed a lot of “free time” in April, May, and early June. Or, consider the recession; the economy has magnified and accelerated the needs of the company I work for and the clients we serve. It has been really busy. Complain? I think not! Lots of people would love to have that problem right now... I do not take my employment for granted in any way. The point is, sometimes, we must do what we need to do, before we can do what we want to do. So, while I’ve been blessed with a few wonderful river and wetland expeditions this year, I haven’t gotten out on the water as much as I would have liked to.

Now, there is one more such task I must complete, before I can get to the next river clean-up. As I have long suspected, it seems I have a rather nasty tear in a couple of muscles; something I have apparently aggravated recently. This week, I have learned the issue will require some surgical repairs. (Not life threatening, by a long shot… but not exactly fun, either.) Until those repairs have healed, I’m not supposed to lift anything “strenuous.” Translation: No more river clean-ups for Mike this season.

Now I know what an athlete must feel like when they’re told they’re out for the season. (Although I’m certainly no athlete… and they get paid a lot more for playing games than I do for cleaning up river trash!) To say the least, it’s frustrating.

But let’s make lemonade from lemons, shall we? Since I’ve been anticipating this for a while, I’ve been thinking about a “non-strenuous” way of contributing to the whole idea of conservation.

I’ll share that idea with you here, soon.


© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Is July already gone?

How fast the month of July seemed to scream by. Sandwiched between the hectic pace of work, and the insatiable demands of having recently moved, there are the things I would like to do.

The good news is that the river did not escape me amidst the demands of the month. I was able to get that voyage in with Curt Oien, and another pair of river getaways. The outcome of those trips is a good bounty of garbage removed from the Crow River... along with a collection of photos from the river that I greatly look forward to sharing.

But one of the casualties of the pace July offered... is that I had little time for writing or blogging. Between work-related projects and travel, something had to give, and it was writing. I won't apologize... as I have taken good notes (and pictures) that will allow me to share the experiences later.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

New places, new faces, and a river with a fan club

When we moved to the Saint Michael area, Paul Nordell at the Minnesota DNR introduced me to a couple of folks, via email, that he described as avid stewards of the north fork of the Crow River. One of those folks is a gentleman by the name of Curt Oien. In a short exchange of emails, Curt provided me with a bounty of information and history about the Crow. He reflected, with a well-deserved sense of pride, about the numerous clean-ups he has seen and participated in over the past six years. But he also cited a number of different organizations throughout the watershed that have made the Crow River the benefactor of their sweat and effort.

According to Curt, the Saint Michael Area River Team (SMART) has been an amazingly effective group. The team has arranged for specific sites on both sides of the river to stack garbage before it is hauled away… and they enjoy great co-operation from landowners along the Crow. They get help from the City of Saint Michael and the Three Rivers Park District... in hauling away the trash that is collected.

The river also benefits each year from help the National Honor Society and the Environmental Science Teachers at the STMA High School. The Boy Scouts and Cub scouts have been there from the beginning, in addition to many other members of the community. During the cleanup, some of the younger Cub Scouts even mark storm drains to remind people not to dump anything that doesn't belong there. (As I've written before, every storm drain and every roadside ditch is a tributary that eventually leads to a river.) The Thomas Family was involved with cleaning the river long before anyone else in the area was doing it. The past few years, their neighbors have followed their fine example.

But it doesn't stop there. Upstream, the Hanover Area River Team has been staging clean-ups for seven or eight years. And last but not least, Curt mentioned the tremendous effort of Diane Sander, the coordinator for the Crow River Watershed District ( (Diane was the other advocate I was told about by Paul Nordell at the DNR.)

Wow, the Crow River is obviously treasured by her neighbors. And Mr. Oien must certainly be among its’ most passionate stewards.

Curt and I have not yet met in-person, but we have arranged to take a river run this Saturday. We’ll repeat the brief voyage I took last weekend. I told him of the well liner and canoe remains that I’d like to retrieve (see the story below), and between his canoe and my kayak, he thinks we can grab them both. I’m confident we’ll either succeed, or figure out a plan that will.

© 2009 Mike Anderson, Saint Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My first recon trip on the Crow River

On the 4th of July, I had a chance to take my first meaningful trip down the Crow River. (I had been to the Crow once before, but paddled upstream only a mile or two, and then drifted back. It was more of an upper-body workout than a kayak trip.)

Saturday was a beautiful day, weather-wise, with a light overcast sky to protect me from a very intense sun. I put in at Riverside County Park at Hanover, Minnesota, and took out near Berning’s Mill, just east of Saint Michael. “As the crow flies,” the route is only 2.6 miles, but when following the dramatic and scenic contours of the Crow, the route is closer to 5.1 river miles.

I’ll share some really nice wildlife scenes shortly (that’s what made this trip so much fun). And as “people who know the river” led me to expect, there was surprisingly little trash or debris. Only two items justified recording their location by GPS.

One of the objects seemed to be some kind of culvert or sump well liner; made of black vinyl and way too big to toss onto my kayak. The photo to the left is deceiving; it is actually about three feet in diameter, and probably more than four or five feet in length.
The other item, I think, is what's left of a sectioned plastic canoe that probably failed to survive one of the several light rapids near here. If it is a canoe (and I’m only guessing that’s what it is), it is only the center section; the gunnels are missing, as well as the fore and aft sections of the craft. But knowing I would have to return for the well liner, I decided to save this item for my return trip, too. If weather permits next weekend, I’ll bring along my portable reciprocating saw, and take both objects out in sections. (As always, click on any photo to enlarge.)
© 2009 Mike Anderson, Saint Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

If you are visiting for the first time...

Welcome. Between coverage we’ve received recently from Minnesota Waters, Minnesota Trails or Field and Stream magazine, it occurs to me that a good number of folks might be visiting this site for the first time. So let me catch you up. is neither a non-profit organization, nor a for-profit enterprise. It is simply a blog, which we use to share what we’ve learned and experienced... as my wife and I develop some new ideas for river restoration and conservation. We like to share our photos (click on any image to enlarge it). And we like to share our simple premise: Anyone, on any given day, has the power to improve a place.

Geo-trashing is one example of an idea we've developed. When we adopted our third river segment--this one on the Mississippi--we found a much different pollution problem that the light trash we were used to on our two stretches of the scenic St. Croix River. There were tires, barrels, construction debris, appliances… things that you cannot lift and carry away on a kayak. So we started collecting digital photos and GPS waypoints of where these items had been discarded, with the idea that we could return with the appropriate tools to collect the trash later. So, it's something like geo-caching, except the treasure we're hunting for is trash. (A recent KARE 11 TV news story explained geo-trashing well. Click here to watch it.)

But that’s just one example of what we’re learning. We’ve also learned how to create GPS maps of trash targets, sorted by debris type, and how to convert them into “ARC-compliant” maps (the kind used by many government agencies). Now, some of our trash maps are actually being used to guide one park district’s conservation effort in a series of riverside re-development projects. We’ve learned how jurisdictions work—and sometimes how they do not—between cities, counties, state and federal agencies. And we’ve learned how dumping and pollution are often crimes of convenience and opportunity. (With nowhere else to put them without getting caught, crooks love to toss emptied safes in the river. We’ve found ten safes, so far). And we’ve learned a little bit about how to clean this junk up.

There is no revenue model for our project, and we do not solicit donations. We absorb our modest expenses out-of-pocket… and have to save-up for new equipment the same way anyone else would.
The web has been an economical tool, and we’re trying to use it as it was intended to be used: To share ideas. If you’d like to get in touch, just drop me an email. If you have knowledge about or experience in matters of conservation… please share it! And if you have a question, please feel free to ask it. Perhaps you’ll take an idea from this site that helps you make an impact in your community... or maybe you'll share an idea that makes us more productive.

So again, thanks for stopping in. And enjoy.


© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Well, since you put it that way...

An old friend called today, to comment on the several articles that have been published about our project recently. "Perhaps the trash you've taken from the river is less significant... than the awareness you have brought to it."

His remark made me stop & think. Good friends do that; it is one of the reasons they're good friends.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Here's an example of "before and after"

Having recently moved into a new neighborhood, I’ve met a couple of new friends in the St. Michael area that wanted an example of what a Geo-Trashing map looks like. So I'll share a pair.
Our most successful project last year came from part of the north metro Mississippi River, on the west bank, which is largely under the jurisdiction of the Three Rivers Park District. They had only acquired the property recently, so there was still a lot of junk sitting in or near the river, waiting to be removed. I took several kayak trips down that stretch of river, and created an inventory map that looked something like this. (Click on the map below to enlarge.)

View Pre Clean-up Mississippi Targets 7-20-08 in a larger map
Note that this is a simple Google Map. We can provide versions in a variety of languages, including MapPoint (compatible with Garmin GPS devices), Google Earth, and even ARC-compliant language (the preference of most government agencies, architects and engineers). Each of the flags (or “waypoints) on this map represents a large trash item or debris field… and each of these sites has a corresponding photo. So the trash hunter knows what they’re looking for, as well as where they’ll find it.

But here’s the good news. After re-visiting this area of the Three Rivers Park District last fall, here’s what the map look like now:

View Post Clean-up Mississippi 9-20-08 in a larger map

Most of what was on that map was moved into a utility trailer, and disposed of properly. (The trailer load you see here weighed roughly 885 pounds, and all but one piece of trash—a wooden door frame—was to a scrap iron dealer and has since been recycled.) The one flag that remains on this map represents a water heater or LP tank I could not lift out of the muck on my own. (But here's a video of the stuff I could lift!)

You know, most of our clean-up work involves paddling along in a kayak, grabbing plastic beverage bottles, beer cans, bait containers or other light trash. But it’s the use of technology to inventory and then recover the big stuff that seems to get all the attention. So let me just offer this one simple reminder: Anyone with a trash bag and an old pair of tennis shoes can conduct a clean-up in a park, on a trail, or on a riverbank. Anyone, on any given day, has the power to improve a place.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ahhh... so this chapter has a happy ending after all

This winter and spring, I spent quite a little time researching some potential equipment upgrades. There are a couple of Nikon and Sony digital cameras out there which are capable of recording GPS waypoint information directly to the digital photo file at the instant a photo is taken. A Digital SLR camera would be ideal for this use, but they are very, very expensive. On the other hand, National Camera sells a Nikon compact that is GPS-enabled for right around $500. Another option is something called a Jobo GPS Tagger, which I think might connect to my current camera, and log the corresponding latitude and longitude as each shot is taken. I have more homework to do on that one, though.

I was excited about this idea. Right now, the process of Geo-Trashing can be rather cumbersome and time-consuming. When you find the debris field or dumped item, you must first snap a digital photo, then hunt-and-peck on the handheld GPS to create and label a waypoint, one letter at a time. Then, back at the office, you have to make sure you’re mating the right GPS waypoints to the corresponding photo. With a GPS-enabled camera, all of this would become a much faster one- or two-step process. If it works they way I’m thinking, I could cover many more river miles, and record more trash targets, all in less time.

But then, the break-in at our home happened. That basically nixed the new camera idea, forcing us to think about replacing original equipment and paying deductibles… instead of making the upgrades I had hoped for. As I’ve stated before, we are neither a non-profit organization nor a for-profit business; aside from the kayaks on loan to us from Joe's Sporting Goods, everything we do with this project is out-of-pocket.

But here’s the happy ending to this chapter of our story. The Heroes of Conservation recognition we’ll receive from Field and Stream next month comes with a $1,000 grant, courtesy of the program’s sponsor, Toyota. While perhaps not one of the fancier D-SLR models (they run two-thousand dollars or so), that puts a GPS-enabled camera back within our reach. (We can get started with the cheaper, compact version... and if it works well, I’ll save up for the more sophisticated D-SLR camera.) I think testing this equipment in the field is a wise use of the Heroes of Conservation grant money.

This summer, my goal is to hit some new, unfamiliar waterways, beyond our adopted segments of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers. A quicker way of recording and merging GPS waypoints and digital photos would make those trips much more productive.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

A friend maps our way to Field and Stream

Back in April, I received a phone call from a gentleman by the name of Tom McCafferty, a conservation writer for Field and Stream magazine. He informed me that I had been nominated for what the magazine calls their “Heroes of Conservation” program; the nomination had come from our good friend Joe Rauscher at Joe's Sporting Goods. Joe was at a trade show earlier this year, and came across the Field and Stream booth promoting the Heroes of Conservation program.

Early in the call, Tom started a line of questioning that turned into a full a half-hour telephone interview. He asked for sample maps, photographs and other materials… so I gave him a quick tour of our blog and suggested a few online videos he might benefit from seeing. Tom called again in early May, to let me know that upon further review by the editorial staff, I had indeed been selected, and would be included in their Heroes of Conservation section in the July 2009 issue of Field and Stream.

This recognition has important ramifications for our humble little project… but more on that later. For now, I would simply like to thank Joe Rauscher for the time and thought required to submit our project nomination. certainly has a friend in Joe’s Sporting Goods. Not a financial sponsorship, but a relationship that is even more valued and important: Informed advice, and authentic friendship. Everytime we hit the river, we feel like Joe's team is with us. Thanks, Joe. And thanks to Tom McCafferty and the editors of Field and Stream, as well as your national sponsor for this program, Toyota. I think this is a great thing you're doing... and I appreciate it.

Click here to see a scanned advance copy of the Hero’s of Conservation write-up that I received by email today.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pesky, but perfect

It is easy to become annoyed by the cottonwood seeds this time of year. They fly into your eyes and face, and they stick to everything that is wet… whether that’s a sweaty face and neck, or a yak that’s being pulled from the water. The fluffy specs turn into a scum that gets particularly thick in eddies where the current slows. Look closer at those side ponds, and you’ll see the helicopter seeds of ash, maple and box elder, as well as floating chestnuts, pine cones, and the seed pods of American elm.

As annoying as the cottonwood seeds can be, they are taking the current for an important ride. After the breeze drops them into the river, the river carries them to a place where they can wash ashore and take root.

One cannot curse the cottonwood seeds, and then celebrate the thick tree stands that border the river. They are mutually dependent.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Rivers and rewards

As I had hoped, I got out on the kayak today. But instead of heading out to Pelican Lake, as I had originally planned, I made way for the Crow River just east of Saint Michael. I didn’t go far. I put in at the landing where Nabor Road crosses the river. Without an up-to-date GPS, I went the safe way… paddling upstream about two miles, and then letting myself drift back. (A bad experience on the St. Croix River taught me to not drift down on the first leg and then paddle back upstream on the second leg. Always good to know you’re spending fuel on the way out, and then gliding on the way back!)

It was a lot of work heading against the current today. I was a bit surprised by the strength of the Crow’s current. But I was rewarded significantly. Today, I saw my first otter. I’ve been wanting to see one for a long time… but I’ve been zipped until today. They are curious creatures; the little critter was as enamored with me as I with he. He’d peak from the shoreline, then scurry into the grass and run downstream to take another look, as if to see whether I could keep up with him. I was able to keep pace, but I didn't successfully get a shot of him with my camera. (Some animals simply do not stop to pose for human popperatzi.)

As if I needed it, I got a second reward a few yards further down the river. I had seen an egret on the way up the river down the second bend. So, I lifted my paddle to drift with the current on the way back down, thinking I could get much closer to the big bird on my way back, using the element of surprise. My plan worked. I was able to study the huge crane as he fished from his perch on a log. (As always, click on any photo to enlarge it. Then, hit your "Back" button to return to this spot.)
Finally, as I got a little too close, he took flight… screeching at me for invading his territory. I was amazed by the loudness of his call… and delighted to snap a second shot of the huge bird as he became airborne. It was cool enough that I turned around and paddled back upstream to get a second look, where he had come to rest on a sand bar upstream. It was worth the effort… this breed of fowl is an amazing bird to study.

You can see these creatures in a zoo. But so much better, it is, to see them in freedom of their element.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Getting aquainted with some new waterways

Returning home from a travel assignment this week, I was pleased to see that FedEx had delivered the two GPS devices we had ordered to replace those stolen during the break-in back in April. The timing is perfect! Tonight, I will program the new GPS units with updated maps. With rain in the forecast for tomorrow, I’ll use the day to build a kayak storage system in my garage (we cannot store them outside in the neighborhood we live in, so I’m designing a system that will help me hang them from the ceiling of the garage with pulleys). But Sunday, I’m eager to explore one of the two new bodies of water that we now live near. One of those streams is the Crow River, which I’m told is a perfect paddling river.

But there is another spot I’d like to explore. Having driven a few times around the west side of Saint Michael, I thought I had come across a series of broad sloughs and wetlands. But looking more closely at a map of the area, I have learned that they are really the coves and inlets of a larger body, known as Pelican Lake. There are two reasons that kayaking the lake is appealing to me. First, it is not attractive to big boats and jet skis (a new neighbor tells me that it’s about ten feet at its deepest point). But second, it is somewhat secluded, and in many places not far from various roadways; I will almost certainly discover that it is the victim of dumping. We’re not talking about litter, here, but things like appliances, tires, etc. Dumping large objects is largely a crime of opportunity and convenience; when proximity to a bridge or roadway makes dumping easy, and unlikely that the dumping will be seen by passers-by, that’s where you’ll find junk in the water.)

In any regard, it will be fun to navigate a new waterway… and I’m looking forward to getting acquainted.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

One day, dozens of people, pounds and pounds of progress

I had two work-related road trips scheduled for this week, so I could not participate. But it was so cool to again see headlines about the annual Mississippi River paddleboat clean-up event sponsored by the DNR! Paul Nordell and his team consistently bring a bounty of volunteers together for this event, and get an impressive amount accomplished in a single day.

If you haven’t seen the story yet, enjoy it here as it appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. By the way... one of the comments a Strib reader had on the story was that the writer should have included information about how others can get involved. Let me offer one suggestion: Visit the Adopt-a-River web site! It offers some easy and enjoyable guidance.

Paul was a key figure in getting me interested in river conservation way back in 1993 and 1994. As passionate as he is about protecting natural resources, it does not surprise me that he continues to inspire countless others.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What a wonder the river is

This evening, I again read this passage worth sharing.

“For the first time, it occurred to me this afternoon what a piece of wonder a river is. A huge volume of matter ceaselessly rolling through the fields and meadows of this substantial earth—making haste from high places, past the stable dwellings of men and Egyptian pyramids—to its restless reservoir. One would think that, by a very natural impulse, the dwellers upon the headwaters of the Mississippi and Amazon would follow in the trail of their waters to see the end of the matter.”

Henry David Thoreau, from his Journal #1, page 55 (September 5, 1838).


Sunday, May 31, 2009

A new sense of order, just in time for summer

As I sit down to write this Sunday evening, the last of May, I’m looking forward to time of more order and focus. The past few weeks (months, really), we’ve lived amid chaos. There has been a hectic travel schedule for work, the break-in, and the “living out of cardboard boxes” that comes with any move.

My work schedule remains intense, but I’ll not complain. (I know there are many, many people who long to have a job, especially one as rewarding and stimulating as mine is.) But on the home front, the majority of our things have found a place in our new home (thanks to Julie). And another significant point of stability: Tonight, I write on a laptop which replaces one that was stolen back in mid-April.

I’ve spent some time “training-in” this machine, loading it with files, photos and maps that were on various back-up disks. (I was able to recover most—but not all—of our work.) It is strange how my old laptop became the intellectual epicenter of this project… the place we blogged from, the place we stored dozens of maps, hundreds of GPS waypoints, and thousands of digital photos. This experience has been a testiment to the importance of backing-up your machine(s)… and store at least one back-up in a different location than your machinery. (In this case, we were fortunate to have both disk and hard-drive back-ups… as one of the back-up drives was also taken!)

Yet to be replaced… a couple of GPS devices that were also taken. (The challenge of this process is in finding units which are as identical to the stolen devices as possible, as called for in our insurance policy.) I’m hoping to get my hands on the GPS gear this week… and resume my on-water work. I have some big plans for summer, now that the turmoil of the move is behind us. More on that soon.

© 2009 Mike Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

We're pleased to be found in MN Trails

Our project has received nice coverage from a wide variety of publications, blogs and broadcasters. (See the top right-hand navigation bar for examples.) Most recently, our efforts have been covered by Paula Wojcik, a writer for MN Trails magazine.

Months ago, Paula called me to begin researching her story. I must tell you that, while it is the job of any journalist to be a dispassionate reporter of observed events and activities… she wanted to let us share the deeper story of river restoration. As she asked questions about our pollution recovery efforts, I implored her to also share the positive side: That she should write about the beauty, as well as the beast. (I asked her to show at least one or two photos of a pristine stream, wildlife and backwaters, as well as the trash we have seen. People need to see the payoff for responsible conservation efforts!)

Paula did just that, by sharing a few of our photos and through the pictures created by her words. That is something Julie and I very much appreciate… and we thank Paula and her editors for sharing the goods news as well as the trash talk!

If you'd like to see the story, click on this link to download a re-print (three pages, 10 MB). Or of course, you can pick up a copy of the Summer 2009 issue of MN Trails magazine at any Minnesota State Parks or Explore Minnesota tourism facility. You can also grab a copy at any sponsor location (to see who their sponsors are, just visit the MN Trails web site).

Paula, thank you. If people saw only the trash we have seen, and if they only heard about the bad stuff, they would become discouraged. But allowed to share the beauty of the St. Croix River Valley, the Mississippi, and other waterways…

It helps all of us realize why this is such a great place to experience life.

© 2009 Mike Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

With our relocation, a move to new waters

As nice as it would have been to find a place that was actually on the river, our new home in St. Michael comes with a different kind of access.

If I were to live on a specific shoreline, I can imagine myself staying close to that one body of water. For example, even though our Crystal home was five miles or so from the Mississippi, that became the river I most frequently explored. There are many other waterways waiting to be explored nearby, but human nature often drives us to the familiar, rather than the undiscovered.

From our new residence, I’m still less than ten miles from the Mississippi, but much farther upstream. I could choose from entry points at St. Cloud, Monticello, Otsego or Elk River. But we are also close to the Crow River… a quite paddle-able tributary which joins the Mississippi at Dayton. We are within driving range to a number of other streams, including the Elk and Sauk rivers. And of course, we will return to (and continue to maintain) our adopted stretches of the northern St. Croix River… as regularly as time allows.

Our home is situated in the extreme southwest corner of town. In fact, you look at the town from our front window, but at the country from our rear window. The patio door literally opens to a unique grass and wetland. There is a small country highway about a half-mile to our south… and a set of power lines perhaps a half mile to our west. But aside from that, there is little but grass, short brush, and a few ponds. So far, we’ve seen blackbirds, yellow finches, a pheasant, geese, ducks, and a muskrat. With these kinds of critters so plentiful, fox and perhaps even coyote cannot be far behind. Surprisingly, I have not yet seen deer, but I am confident we will.

Three or four miles to our west/northwest, on a casual drive, we discovered a different kind of water that I intend to spend some time on. It is a slough… just small enough to remain nameless, uninhabited as far as powerboats and jet skis are concerned. But big enough to paddle, and inhabited by pelicans, egrets and beaver (and much more, I am sure; these are just what we saw from the road). Millions of people explore popular lakes here in Minnesota, and thousands more traverse its well-known rivers. But few will see these less traveled waterways… which makes them all the more inviting.

Anyway, there is much exploring to be done, now that we have a new home base. Instead of lamenting that I could not own a specific stretch of waterfront, perhaps I should be pleased that I am not confined by one.

© 2009 Mike Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Change of address

I hope regular visitors to this site will forgive the time since my last posting, but much has been going on. First, there was been the challenge of losing several tools we use in writing and maintaining this blog (I’ve written about the break-in and burglary). Then, there has been a frantic few weeks of travel related to work (it has calmed down of late). But on top of it all, there has been the matter of relocation.

Months ago, Julie and I decided to speculate a bit in the real estate market. Our goals were simple; perhaps our house would fetch a reasonable sum due to its rather central location in the city. If so, we would be in a position to upgrade a bit, buying a newer/nicer home a little further out. As it turns out, we were right. After a stressful several months (the current economy has made buying and selling real estate a very interesting proposition), we have moved to St. Michael, Minnesota.

We sold our house in February, accepting the deferred closing our buyers had requested. We closed on the sale of one house and the purchase of another just this past Friday, and moved in to our new digs on Saturday.

In addition to getting out of the city, one of my hopes was that our new home would be on the river. In my wildest dreams, we’d have found a place on the St. Croix… but we scratched that plan early on, as land on that national treasure is far too expensive for our blood. So, I tried everything in my power to find something on the Mississippi, the Crow, or the Elk River. But economics and timing worked together to prevent that dream from coming true. So, I’ll have to be satisfied with the roof rack that secures the kayak to my truck, and the camping set-up Julie and I invested in a few years ago.

When it comes to our modest little camper, I like to tell people we own a lake home… it just didn’t come with a lake. But enjoying the bounty of state parks and camp sites in this part of the country is one way of living close to the lake or river… one weekend at a time.

This week, I have taken some time off from work to settle-in after the move, and catch up on our river work.

© 2009 Mike Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A look at the MPRB map to cleaner waters

As I reported last March, I’ve spoken with Tim Brown at Minneapolis Parks and Recreation about the restoration of shorelines within Minneapolis parks in the north metro area. As the story explained, we’ve taken an extensive inventory of the trash and debris that sits in this part of the Mississippi River, including photos and GPS waypoints of where those items are sitting. (Click here for a glimpse, or see the thumbnail below.) Tim suggested that if we could provide him with ARC-compliant versions of our GPS target maps, he would attempt to involve contractors in clean-ups as they re-develop park lands.

Well, here is a look at what those maps look like. Note: These are graphically rich documents which are as large as 12.8 MB. If you’re on dial-up, it might take a while.

Overview map.
Lowery to Boom Island map.
North Mississippi Park map.
N Mississippi to St. Anthony Park map.

As seen here, the maps look not much more robust that an image from Google Earth. But to Tim and his team, the .gis and .gpx versions of these files can be “layered” to include only the information sought by its’ user. So, if a contractor wants to drill-down on just a certain type of debris, they can do that.

I just thought you might like to see what this project, and the progress, looks like. Our more complete (but less complex) Google Maps version of the inventory list is shown here.

View Combined Mississippi Trash Targets 3-1-09 in a larger map

Sunday, April 26, 2009


There are certain times in life when one is prone to reflection. We are bound to reflect when we pass one of life’s benchmarks, whether that milestone is a major anniversary, important promotion, or significant birthday. We might reflect when facing a particular challenge; an illness, a job loss or other trauma to our way of life.

Or, we might reflect when given the blessing of a moment; a chance to simply stop, see, and hear. The opportunity to look at life in a way... that life looks back.

For quite some time, now, I have intended to gather and organize a group of photos I’ve taken from the St. Croix River Valley, each having something to do with "reflection." We've taken other nice shots since beginning this project, but the pictures in this group share this one common attribute: Their intensity is doubled because the because skyward beauty is reflected in the foreground glass of water.

I’ll say nothing further, and invite you to click through the set of images for yourself. I’m confident the real views of the river will write a better essay than any words I could offer on the matter. (Click on the image below to enlarge, and then select "slide show" when Picasa opens.)

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Counting the blessings

Tonight, I am thinking about how lucky we were. The greatest fortune, of course, was that nobody was home last week when thieves broke into our home... but that’s not where the blessings stopped. This weekend, we worked on an inventory of items not stolen during the break-in.

Don’t get me wrong… the intruders were clearly after personal electronics, and they got plenty. We lost GPS devices and laptops, TVs and more. But not taken: A store of back-up disks which held copies of most of the photos and inventory maps we have gathered. And almost everything that was not on those disks was in an email exchange somewhere, and thus, retrievable from “the cloud.” Also not taken (and now stored in a more secure location), the cameras.

The materials I built for our Earth Day visit at Nokomis are gone… but can be rebuilt. As much as this experience stinks, it could have been much worse.

I have not overlooked the irony of our experience on the metro Mississippi… which, a couple of weeks ago led us to discover yet another safe. It had been dropped in the parking lot at North Mississippi Park (Three Rivers Park District, near the interchange of I-94 and 694. That brings to ten the number of safes and/or lockboxes we’ve seen dumped in or near the river. When we tell folks about the safes, they are amazed… and the first reaction is often, “Why would someone dump a safe in the river?” By now, the answer to that question is obvious to me: “Because they’d get busted if they dropped it in the recycling bin and rolled it to the end of their driveway!” Perhaps the greater question is: Why was the safe stolen in the first place?

Anger might compel the question: What convinces a person that it is their right to take what they have not earned, and deprive a person or business from what they have earned?

But on the other hand, compassion might inspire the question: What circumstances drove these poor souls to believe that theft was their best or only choice? Certainly, they must want for better options in life. I hope those options are granted, recognized, and taken.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Still, I will have all I need

I am sad to report that our river project—indeed, our overall sense of security—suffered a setback this week.

Before it even started, I knew this would be an intense five days. I traveled to Indiana Monday/Tuesday for a job-related speaking engagement. Tuesday evening, I would fly home, only to leave the next morning for another assignment in Canada Wednesday through Friday. But on the first leg of my trip—while waiting for a connection in Chicago on Monday morning—my wife called me in tears. She had been running some errands, and returned to discover that our home had been broken into.

It is not easy to be apart when something like this happens. Not for my wife. And not for me.

On a typical Monday morning, I would have been home working in my office (would my presence have made the intruders choose another house?). Receiving her phone call while miles from home, I could only think of how thankful I was that my wife and son were away when the break-in occurred. The stolen and damaged items should, for the most part, be covered by insurance (we’re in good hands). But two things cannot be protected by a simple insurance policy. One is our sense of sovereignty; it has gone missing and is not likely to be replaced anytime soon.

The other item missing, that I know of, is a laptop… containing numerous photographs and digital maps that are the result of countless hours of work. Yes, much of that material is backed up. But some of it was recent, and irreplaceable. (I finished a new presentation about our project last Saturday morning, in time for our Earth Day celebrations, and had not yet backed that material up.) Whoever stole that computer took much more than a machine. They took plans. They took images of what needs to be done. And they took our record of things already accomplished.

I am writing this posting while flying home from Vancouver, Canada, late on Friday afternoon; there will be little time for writing when I land. I am eager to get home and see my wife. And I am eager to inventory my office for items lost (much of the equipment I use is foreign to Julie, so counting the loss must wait until I get home). Until now, I have tried to “compartmentalize” the events of the week, focusing on the work assignments that kept me from home, and checking in with Jul when I can. But now that I’m homeward bound, I’m eager to see the faces of my family. I am wondering about cameras, lenses, GPS devices, back-up hard drives, and whatever else. I’ve no idea how much of our gear is missing… and less idea of when I’ll be able to replace it all.

I feel both angry and cheated that this happened. But most of all, I feel thankful that my wife and kids were not home at the time. As for the work I have lost, I suppose I’ll just have to use this loss as an excuse to revisit the river, and recapture those photos. Hmmm. That reminds me of a really good song lyric, about a couple who lost everything when their cabin burned down:

After the blaze turned our cabin down to ashes… where we had slept warm, now the sky lets in the rain. I found the strings, the frets and rusted latches.
But I will never hear that old guitar again.

Now these four walls are only in my memory… now these stone steps lead to nothing in the air. So one last look, and then I’m headed for the river…
To wash my hands, and try to say this prayer:

Let us dive into the water, and leave behind all that we’ve worked for, except what we remember and believe. And as I stand on the farthest shore... I will have all I need.

[Lyrics from “Farthest Shore,” David Wilcox.]

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN. All rights reserved.