Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A picture-perfect finish to 2010

The experience was nearly a year ago (January 16), but I remember it well. A good friend and fellow conservationist called to invite me over. His name is Curt Oien (you’ve seen me write of him here before), and his home overlooks a stretch of the Crow River near St. Michael, as well as a vast meadow and woods that belong to the Crow-Hassan Park Reserve, a parcel of the Three Rivers Park District.

Curt had seen a number of Trumpeter Swans, recently, exercising in open water just down the hill, and he wanted to share them. (Truth is, it was a harsh winter, and Curt had been helping the birds survive with pails of delicious corn.) They were familiar enough with his presence that, barring any scares from passing snowmobiles, he could sit nearby for hours, feeding them.

So, I joined Curt on a trip down to the river. If I recall correctly, it was very cold that day (around ten degrees), but the wind was mercifully quiet. And sure enough, the collection of Trumpeters was there. I watched Curt hand-feed the group, and I crawled around on the ice near shore to find the most advantageous position to shoot pictures. Among many other shots I took that day was the photo you see above; I have recently been notified that this picture is the winner in the wildlife category of a photography contest sponsored by the ten-county Crow River Organization of Water. (Click on the photo above to see a larger version.)

As this shot was taken, I was on my knees near the riverbank, shooting across and down-stream toward the birds. The gentle haze is steam rising from the open water into the crisp winter air. And those puffs in the background are not clouds, but ice chunks on the opposing bank, covered by the light snow which had fallen the night before.

Click here to see all of the award-winning photographs, including a shot that earned Curt an honorable mention (any other day, his shot could have easily beaten mine!).

This is the second year our work has been recognized by this group; last year, the winning shot was an injured deer, "Cooling Off in the Crow River."

In the coming months, I'll take a more casual approach to updating CleanUpTheRiver.com, as I focus on a couple of other projects and wait for the spring clean-up season. So Happy New Year, and here’s hoping your 2011 is prosperous… and picturesque. Stay connected via my other site, http://footprintsandphotographs.com/.

© 2010 Mike Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The original river clean-up continues

While I was out last week, this story from Reuters explained that G.E. must do more to clean-up the Hudson River in New York. Interesting, because this is one of the issues that gave voice to the environmental movement back in the 70s... and work remains to be done.

Click hear to read the Reuters article.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

A nice letter to get

This past week, I received a letter informing me that one of my submissions has won the 2010 C.R.O.W. photography competition, in the wildlife category. I'm not sure which picture it was just yet, but will share it here when the winning shots are posted at the C.R.O.W. website.

The Crow River Organization of Water is a joint powers board composed of counties which share the watershed.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vote by today or tomorrow for the Friendship Tour

If you haven’t voted yet, consider spending a couple of minutes to advocate for the Minnesota River – Lake Pepin Friendship Tour. The project is one of three finalists being considered in an effort to preserve Lake Pepin, and can benefit from a considerable grant from the Bush Foundation if chosen. For more information, and to cast your vote, visit this link: http://www.incommons.org/CollaborationChallenge



Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Vote for the Minnesota River's "C.U.R.E."

Recently, I've written about the perils facing Lake Pepin in this space. Seeking to alter the future of sedimentation in the lake, the group has created a contest to inspire upstream collaboration.

C.U.R.E., or "Clean Up The River Environment," is a group whose name is similar to my blog, but which is an independent, non-profit group serving the Minnesota River and southwest Minnesota. Their offices are in Montevideo, Minnesota, but because the importance of their work flows downstream, their efforts serve us all. The reason I point-out that they are not a part of CleanUpTheRiver.com is that I would encourage you to vote for their project in the Lake Pepin contest. C.U.R.E. is among three finalists that are still in the running.

To see details of their efforts, click here: http://www.incommons.org/en-us/node/842

To vote, click here: http://www.incommons.org/en-us/CollaborationChallenge

Care for your waters... with the convenience of a point-and-click for C.U.R.E.!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Today, I'm not taking drinking water for granted

Over the past few weeks, Julie and I have been doing a bit of homework… preparing for a trip we’re taking to the Dominican Republic. We’ve never been there, so everything is a lesson. We’ve learned about Hepatitis A and B vaccinations (ouch) and updating tetanus shots in advance of our trip, and taking regiment of pills to prevent against malaria.

Also, we’re learning about the hazards of drinking water in tropical locations. Americans are not accustomed to the less treated waters that are considered potable by foreign standards; people who live in those countries have built-up a resistance to the bacteria and micro-organisms that exist in their water supplies… we have not.

That doesn’t just mean, “Don’t drink the water.” It means you cannot brush your teeth from the tap, you cannot put just any ice cubes in your drink, you cannot consume salad greens, fruits or vegetables that have been rinsed in tap water…

It means you can't take one drop of water for granted. Because that could be the drop that is tainted. It's not scary, so much... as it is an important lesson.

As a matter of coincidence, I came across a story in the opinion section of the New York Times that spoke of the challenges of obtaining water in third world countries. It offers a solution, too, in the form of a Swedish company that has created a system to make otherwise dangerous water supplies safer to consume… as well as a means to fund and profit from providing those systems to people who cannot afford to pay. (Click here to read the story.)

I loved this idea. It gives me a degree of success to shoot for in my personal projects.


© 2010 Mike Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A great story about Lake Pepin

Lake Pepin is the largest lake on the upper Mississippi River, and it's in danger of vanishing due to the sediment that is literally filling it in.

Greg Vandegrift from KARE 11 television did a great story on the issue for a recent KARE 11 Extra feature. To read the text version of the story, click here. To see the video, just launch below.


Friday, October 29, 2010

I'll try to make this my last rant about the Deepwater Horizon spill...

And then I will try get back to focusing on conservation issues related to more actionable issues of more local nature. But this set of notes is a reminder of just how complex this situation has been for everyone, and that it is far from over.

Should people not directly impacted by the oil be compensated for oil spill? This story from the New York Times explains why Florida businesses are seeking compensation for the drop in tourism caused by the Deepwater Horizon spill. I don’t have enough knowledge to offer an opinion on this. But it’s another example of how complex this clean-up process has been and will be. Click here to see the story.

Researchers find more missing oil. A recent story from USA Today explains that two different research teams have discovered oil on the floor and in the sediment not far from the site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill of 2010. For details, click here. Again, evidence that the solution will never be as easy as avoiding the problem in the first place.

And here is an early indication that prevention was entirely possible. Another New York Times story this week suggests that the recipe for the concrete used in the well, initially, was flawed. Of course, this will be discussed and denied over the coming months, including probably the usual congressional hearings which expose much but solve little. Click here to see that story.

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Looking back at the gaff in the Gulf

It’s been a half-year since the Deepwater Horizon exploded, with tragic loss of life and immense consequences for the residents of the Gulf of Mexico and its coastlines, both human and wildlife. This story from today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune took a look back at the incident, and considers the ongoing environmental impact. Click here to see the story.

Less than six months later, the ban on deep water drilling is lifted. The White House has put new restrictions and rules in place, but there is no longer a moratorium on deep water exploration or drilling; see this story from the New York Times (last week) for details. I cannot fully understand why the practice is safer now than when things flew utterly out of control six months ago (they must be some darn good new rules), but I hope they know what they’re doing. Click here to see the NY Times story.

New tools to help contain future disasters. Another story—this one from the Associated Press via the San Francisco Examiner—explains that industry experts have developed a new method of containing similar deep water oil spills in the future. Actually, rather than a “new” method, perhaps I should refer to it as simply, “a method.” After all, there was no “Plan B” when the BP well started spilling. But instead of sounding too cynical, I’ll just say I’m glad they’re (finally) thinking about this sort of thing. Click here to read the SF Examiner story.

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Man vs. Wild: Wild wins

The first Saturday in October was not just bright and sunny; it was spectacular, as it followed a long stretch of cloudiness and heavy rains which had flooded many parts of Minnesota. So I was not surprised to see the water running high and fast when my wife dropped me off at Riverside Park in Hanover. (Specifically, the USGS gage in Rockford—a few miles upstream—indicated the channel had risen about four feet in the past week.) I put-in with my solo canoe at around 3:15, and expected to call Julie from our pre-arranged pick-up site near Berning’s Mill by around 5:00 p.m.

As the crow flies, there are only about 2 ½ miles between the starting and ending points, but as the Crow River turns, it transforms this voyage into one of roughly five miles. I wanted to take my time, though, as my goal for the day was to capture some of the brilliant colors that autumn paints on the Crow River valley, and work on a photo project related to bio-diversity.

Within a thousand feet of my launch point on the left bank, I thought I saw something move along a driftwood log on the opposite side of the river. I docked myself against a low-hanging branch for a few moments, hoping to study the opposite bank with my zoom lens and identify the creature that caught my eye. I only knew that it was small and brownish, well camouflaged in the shoreline foliage; it could have been anything from a duck to a muskrat (or a figment of my imagination). Several minutes went by without the critter showing itself, so I decided to move in for a closer look.

Canoeing across a river is not as simple as it might sound. One must consider the trajectory of the vehicle, much the way a jet pilot adjusts for the weather systems in his flight path; the plane is not just moving through the air, it is flying through a body of air that is, itself, moving. Likewise, you cannot simply paddle a canoe across the river from point A to point B; one must consider the water’s current and aim for a destination somewhere upstream, knowing the flow of the river will push you back to place you really wanted to go. That is especially true when the water is swift and high, as it was on this day.

I studied the opposing shoreline, and decided I would aim for a tree limb that was hanging out into the water perhaps thirty feet. If I could grab that branch with my left hand, it would put me in a great position to scan the area where I had seen the movement, leaving my right hand free to shoot some photographs when the animal came out of hiding. At least, that was the plan.

As I paddled into the current, I was reminded just how much energy is released when weight meets gravity. The volume of water I was moving through represented remarkable tonnage, and it created unstoppable momentum… something I would learn first-hand in the next few seconds.

I miscalculated the speed at which the river would draft me toward the tree limb I was aiming for; arriving sooner than planned, my boat was slammed into the up-stream side of the limb, instead of allowing me to grab it from behind. That put me between a tree that would not move, and the hydraulic power of a river that would not stop.

I cannot explain this paradoxical sense, but the next few seconds seemed to unfold both instantaneously and in slow motion. With my canoe broadside to the current, the tree limb placed downward pressure on the left side of the boat, just as the surging river was lifting up on the right side… not unlike a one-two-punch. The gunwale (rim) of the canoe was pushed beneath the surface, and I was thrown into the water. Simultaneously, as the pressure of my weight was taken off the canoe, the river threw it into the air is if it were a plaything. (I still have the image frozen in my mind… of my body in mid-air just before it hit the water, and the boat suspended over my head, waiting to follow me in.)

The impact of the water hurt in more ways than one. For one thing, this was the first time I had ever unintentionally rolled a canoe or kayak. (I had done so on purpose—so I would know what to expect if it ever happened—which turned out to serve me well on this day.) More dramatic was the sensation of going from overheated and sweating, instantly, to very, very cold. I was dressed for a cool fall day: hiking shoes over sweat socks, cargo pants, a long-sleeved knit shirt, a fleece jacket, and over that, my personal floatation device. But except for the PFD, these layers of protection became a hindrance the instant I hit the water, slowing my movements as they became saturated with cold water. In this part of the country, autumn rains can be very cold… more like a preview of winter ice and snow than the leftovers of a summer thunderstorm. And that cold rain is what gave rise to the river I was now fighting.

Even before I made it back to the surface for my first breath, a dozen thoughts zipped through my mind. I remembered the conversation Julie and I had just before she dropped me off; I had taken my cell phone out, wrapped it in a plastic bag, and then replaced it in my right-side cargo pocket. “I hope you’re as careful with yourself out there as you are mindful of your equipment,” she said. I muttered something about how expensive replacing it would be, and that I need to protect this stuff with my life. She replied, “Well, if anything ever happens, remember to save yourself first, and then save the stuff.”

Now, I was under water in a very cold river, fighting the anchor of a D-SLR camera around my neck, and pockets loaded with the usual stuff, along with a handheld GPS device… and my cell phone. I thought about emptying my pockets and ditching the camera, just as Julie had recommended. But there was no time, as I was too busy competing with the current and fighting my way to the surface.

Suddenly, a slide-show began playing-back in my head: I was picturing the last images of the shoreline I had seen, just before hitting the water. I was remembering, vividly, the lay of the land… and now, I was using those memories to create a strategy of how I’d get out of this mess. There was a fallen tree about twenty yards downstream from where I went in, and another about ten yards beyond. If I hadn’t been pulled too far from shore, there was a good chance I could grab one of those limbs, and gradually make my way toward the riverbank. I remember calmly thinking, “That’s a solid plan… that’s what I’m going to do.” I had it all figured out within the first few seconds I spent under water.

My soaked clothing slowed my ascent, causing my first gasp for air to begin prematurely. So I had to choke down some river water as I started kicking and slapping my way toward the still-mostly-submerged canoe. It was not my intent to recover the boat, but instead, to let the boat recover me. The water was too deep and fast for someone of my size to “right” it in midstream, especially in this kind of current. So, I thought, I would attempt to “wrong” the canoe, clearing it of water by flipping it completely up-side-down, and turning the canoe into a bubble that would keep me afloat for as long as I could hold on to it. It took three attempts, but my plan worked.

I was perhaps thirty feet from shore, and maybe twelve feet from the downed tree that I had hoped to grab. Holding on to the canoe with my right hand, and half-swimming with my left, I tried to work with the current and put myself in a position to grab the longest branch as I floated by it. The swimming was slow… as I was still wearing hiking shoes, my joints were aching from the cold, and I was towing an overturned canoe. There was a lot of self-talk going on during these minutes: “Boy, I better get out of this, or my dad is going to be really irritated” (my father was a Navy man; he wouldn’t want me getting beat by a bunch of water). “I bet my camera’s shot.” “I’m glad I’m wearing a PFD today or this would be a lot harder.” “I bet my cell phone is shot.” “By the way, how am I going to call Julie and tell her it’s time to come pick me up?”

I could not see where I was going, because I was swimming both toward shore and into the current (it was the only way to stay above water). Still using the pictures of the shoreline in my head, I had an idea when to throw my hand out and grab at a tree I could not see coming. You cannot imagine the relief I felt when, right on cue, I threw my hand up just in time for the branch to hit my hand. I grabbed it tightly… and the force of the current flipped my body (and the canoe) into a single-file line behind the half-sunken tree, much like a flag unfurls and whips into its form when hit by a gust of wind.

I was still twenty feet from shore. But it was at that moment that I realized… I was a very lucky man.

I rested there for a few moments: The past few minutes had been utterly exhausting. I would use my clutch of the tree as an opportunity to rest, catch my breath, and plan the final stage of my self-rescue. The ache in my feet and ribs reminded me, though, that while the risk of drowning had passed, the threat of hyperthermia had not. So I began to work my way toward shore, tugging myself along the branch, then grabbing forward and repeating the process.

When I got within three or four feet from the water’s edge, my feet finally hit ground; it was not solid, but the mud felt quite satisfying beneath my feet, given how far they were from land over the past several minutes. I pulled the canoe up toward shore and righted it, tied it to a tree stump, and then unclipped the paddle and threw it up the bank. (I had tethered my paddle to a crossbar in the canoe, something paddlers often do to prepare for just this kind of mishap.) Then, still standing in about a foot of water, I began tilting the boat side-to-side until all of the water had been emptied from the craft. Finally, I walked up the bank, and set myself down on the grass.

I was safe. But the experience was far from over. I tried to look at the thermometer that is clipped to my life vest to see how cold the water had been, but my vision felt blurred. At first, I attributed that blurriness to having my eyes open under such cold water… but as I brought my hands up to rub my eyes, it occurred to me that my bifocals had been washed from my face, probably when I first hit the water. As near as I could tell, the mercury indicated a water temperature in the low 50’s or upper 40’s, cool enough to drain the heat from a man’s body very quickly. (Cold water soaks the heat out of you much faster than air of similar temperature.)

My glasses were not the only thing missing: One of my favorite fitted caps had washed away, as well as the folding handsaw I use to clear debris when it’s caught in a logjam. Ironically, my camera was still hanging around my neck, with water dripping from the lens. Ruined, too, was the plastic-wrapped cell phone in my pocket. I had not protected it well enough to spend ten or twenty minutes underwater. The only equipment that had survived the ordeal was my waterproof GPS device, the boat… and me.

Sitting on a riverbank on the Crow-Hassan Preserve, I was miles from a road and even further from a phone. But I was in a remarkably good frame of mind. The outcome of my crash could have been quite different, and I knew it. After resting a few minutes, I decided the shortest way back to warmth was the same route I had originally planned: I rung the water from my clothes as best I could, and put the canoe back in the water for the trip home. My original landing site was near a bridge over the Crow… where I could flag down a car and call Julie as planned. If I started hiking from here, it would be a long trek, and too much time would pass before I could call Julie. But if I paddled with strength and consistency, I could both make it to the meeting site within an hour or so, and be kept warm by the workout of rowing… all while I avoided causing any unnecessary worry.

It was a God-given, beautiful day on the Crow River. The Ash trees were golden, and the Maples bursting with orange and red. With a camera no longer working, I was not bothered with the distraction of taking pictures; instead, I captured images in my minds’ eye. I studied the power of the floodwater beneath my canoe, holding a renewed respect for its strength and trickery.

As the sun fell lower in the sky and shadows replaced light, my fingers and earlobes began to burn from the chill. By the time I arrived near Berning’s Mill, my whole body was quaking… and I did not even pause between exiting the canoe and pulling it up the twenty-foot incline to the road. I was sure that hard work would be the only way to make the shivering subside. It didn’t.

There is a gun club not far from the landing site, and a few dozen men had gathered there to talk-over their exploits for this day, the season opener for duck hunting. I walked over, was invited in, and offered a cell phone so I could call Julie. Then I was invited to soak-up the warmth of the lodge and to join-in their conversations of adventure. But Julie would be here soon, so I made my way back to the canoe landing within a few minutes.

That evening, there was time for hindsight. Every muscle on the right side of my body was aching from the day's workout. I had nasty scrapes on my right forearm, and bruises on my left forearm and rib cage. My left thumbnail was smashed pretty good, but it did not fall off as I thought it might. It was an expensive day. I lost a Nikon D-SLR camera with a 300 mm zoom lens, a cell phone, a cap, my saw, and a pair of glasses. Lost, also, was my perfect record of never having unintentionally tipped a canoe, kayak, or any other watercraft, for that matter. But my mood was lifted by focusing on what I did not lose.

The USGS river gage later revealed that my hours on the Crow River that day coincided with the crest of the biggest fall flood in decades. That having been said, I was able to handle the river.

But only after the river had handled me.
© 2010 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The modest new addition to the fleet

Okay, so I'm a little jazzed. It won't be until this weekend that I get to launch the new (old) canoe. (See details in the posting below.) But to savor the event, tonight I threw it onto the truck, fashioned some tie-downs for transporting the boat, and got it ready to go.

Here's what the new craft looks like in transit (pictured above), and with the canvas skirt that will be used to keep my gear protected from the elements, in the event I take any longer trips in inclement weather (left).

Crow River: This Saturday, you are mine.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reducing, renewing, recycling some gear

A while back, I decided to sell the two kayaks. I found the Pelican 10’ a bit small, at least when spending more than a few hours in it. The Mad River 12’ was more comfortable, but either it had growth heavier or my elbows have growth weaker; it was becoming difficult for me to lift it to the roof of the X-Terra. My goal was to use the sale proceeds to find a solo canoe, bigger than the 10’ kayak, but lighter than the double-hulled 12’ hybrid kayak. Turns out that everything sold a little quicker than I thought it might, including the Thule kayak racks on the roof of the truck.

Here is happiness: The Pelican went to a first-time kayak owner out of southern Minnesota, and the Mad River went to the younger of a father-and-son team who paddle the North Shore of Lake Superior. (Let the enjoyment continue.)

All of that equipment has been replaced by a used Old Town Discovery solo canoe; an 11’9” boat that was manufactured in 2003. Like the goods I sold, I found this craft through Craig’s List. It was owned by a gentleman who works part-time for a new company called Clear Waters Outfitting Company. While he was selling the canoe “private party,” the store had allowed him to display it in their warehouse. (They were smart to let him do this; I did not know about their shop until after meeting Todd, the gentleman I bought the Discovery from. I'll do business with them in the future, as they have a great store in Clearwater, MN.) It has abundant scratches on the hull, but more to illustrate the boats character than to indicate any serious damage. (The owner of a an old canoe that is unmarked by contact with logs and rocks has cheated himself and his boat from the privilege of a fast romp down the river.) It features a hand-made canvas cover, to protect packs and equipment from the elements on longer trips.

As far as transporting the boat is concerned, I gave my daughter a few bucks for an old set of Yakima cross-bars, and bought the appropriate mounts to make them work on my truck. Having already registered the boat in my name, I hope to float it for the first time this weekend.

Also last week, I pulled out an old Minolta X-700 35 millimeter camera (yes, film) that we've owned since the late eighties, and took it to a local camera shop to be reconditioned. Turns out that by the time the camera was moved through the shop, a small tear had developed in the shutter fabric… one that would only grow as used over time. Graciously, it was the shop’s decision to offer me a trade: They gave me a fully-reconditioned version of the same old camera to replace the one that had been damaged. Since I already have a number of lenses for the unit, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. So on an upcoming river trip—or as I see critters far-off in the meadow behind our house—I’ll shoot some prints in traditional 35 mm film. (This re-purposed camera will allow me to try-out a used tele-photo lens I picked up more than a year ago!)

With all of this new (or used) outfitting, I must now get more aggressive about finding time on the river, as the paddling season is fast dwindling here in Minnesota.

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Headlines from shorelines all over

Grand concerns for the Grand Canyon
I saw a couple of reports today regarding the health and future well-being of Grand Canyon National Park. One came from USA Today (click here to read that version), and another came from Summit County Citizens Voice, a website within the affected area (click to link).

Seafood from the Gulf
In the aftermath of the biggest environmental calamity in history, fishermen and shrimpers are pulling the first harvest of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico since the BP oil spill. A story in USA Today today poses the simple question: Will it be safe for consumption? (Click here to read the USA today story.) I, for one, am among the thousands of people who hope Gulf seafood gets the green light; the people in this region have been through enough! But from the crude oil to the chemicals used to disperse the mess, there is good reason to do some testing, as well as tasting. (I hope the lesson that greater care and oversight are required in deep water drilling has been learned by everyone involved… and I hope the speedy recovery in the Gulf continues.)

Getting bigger before getting it right?
I read an article in the Wall Street Journal today about the expansion of crude oil pipelines and delivery systems for a company called Enbridge. (Click here to read the WSJ.com story.) The pipeline runs from Tioga, North Dakota or Cromer, Manitoba. The story didn’t just catch my eye because I was born and raised in North Dakota. It caught my eye because the name Enbridge sounded very familiar. While most of the world was fixated on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, Enbridge was involved in another spill catastrophe involving the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The spill began on July 25th, according to this timeline from the Michigan Messenger. According to an AP report, the company had been warned about problems related to their pipeline network, including the line involved with the spill. (Click here to see the version of the story run by MS-NBC.)

Staying on top of water quality issues, with direct access to the EPA
I first learned about the Enbridge spill because the EPA sent me an email. Not that I’m all that important… but I had signed-up for newsletter notifications from the agency by visiting this page on their website. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, don’t take it from me. Get it directly from the Environmental Protection Agency by email. (Click here to sign up.)

Fracking is freaking some folks out
The practice of extracting natural gas from deep shale beds by using water and chemicals to fracture the rock has been getting a lot of attention, lately. The technique, known as “fracking,” is the subject of a recent HBO documentary, suggesting that the practice can compromise water supplies in adjacent lands. Fracking was also the focus of a story today in USA Today. (Click here to read the story.) Or, to see the trailer for the HBO feature film, see below.

If you have a water-quality story to share--especially of the "good news" variety--drop me an email, okay?

Mike Anderson

Monday, August 23, 2010

Our conservation efforts turn a corner

If one is truly passionate about spending time on the water—whether in recreation or in various conservation efforts—there can never be enough time navigating, renewing, and being renewed by, our rivers, streams or lakes. That is certainly the case where I am concerned; over the past couple of years, a blend of personal responsibilities, workplace demands and physical challenges (the kind that come with age) have greatly reduced the time I can spend on the water. I’m still cleaning up trash and debris when I get the chance to float a river, but not in the tonnage I did a few short years ago. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. And a while back, it occurred to me that there are ways I can advance matters of stewardship more effectively in the future.

With that in mind, I’m going to adjust this blog to focus less on my direct activities with river clean-up, and use it to focus more on sharing the ideas and accomplishments of others. Whether a Boy Scout troop removing trash from a riverside road here in St. Michael, or a dam removal on the Penobscot in Maine, I’ll pass along stories I find from all over, in the hope that this site becomes an idea resource to anyone who’s inclined to improve the rivers, streams and lakes that are dear to them. In shifting to this approach, I will be allowed more time for what is next.

Footprints and Photographs
There is a classic phrase used in the conservation community to encourage the careful use of parks, trails, and waterways: “Leave only footprints, and take only pictures.” I love that quote, because it frames, concisely, such a true and simple solution to many of the problems facing our natural places and their wildlife inhabitants.

Shortly after starting the river blog back in 2007, I was hit with a couple of epiphanies. The first was that CleanUpTheRiver.com was preaching to the choir; it is a blog most likely to be read by people who are already sold on the idea of stewardship.

Another important understanding occurred to me: Conservation begins with appreciation. If someone takes the time to see and experience the outdoors, they just naturally become more inclined to protect those places.

With FootprintsAndPhotographs.com, I hope to help folks see, experience, and appreciate the outdoors. The past few years have been a great opportunity to learn a little about natural photography, which is a nice compliment to the kind of writing I like to do. By sharing some photos and narratives from the places I've had the chance to visit and absorb, perhaps I can remind people how good we have it... and foster greater appreciation for the outdoors.

I plan to remain engaged in hands-on river clean-up. But the accomplishments I’m seeing from around the U.S. (and the world) are much more impressive than my own. So it makes more sense for this blog to focus on those kinds of inspirational issues and ideas. At this writing, I have sold our pair of kayaks, and am shopping for a solo canoe that might serve as a better platform for writing and photography in the wild (Julie and I still have the tandem Old Town canoe for when she wants to ride along). And I’m taking my camera to some off-water hiking and biking trails, too.

I have a head-start on the new blog, as I began posting entries in January of this year; I did not want to make the new site known, however, as I wanted to make sure I was happy with its contents before I shared it with others. While far from perfect, some stories and pictures are ready for you now, and I invite you to stop by for a visit, at http://FootprintsAndPhotographs.com/.

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Introducing (and draining) Pelican Lake

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A couple of weeks ago, I dropped my kayak into a body of water that has been known, for a relatively short while, as Pelican Lake. This is not the famous lake by the same name that is in the Brainerd Lakes area… nor is it the one found near Barnsville in the west central part of our state. This Pelican Lake is a small body of water about four miles west of our home in St. Michael.

I had heard about the odd origins and even more peculiar destiny of Pelican Lake from various neighbors and acquaintances since we move here last year. Rumor held that the Department of Natural Resources was threatening to partially drain the lake, and sending the water into a wetland on the edge of town (coincidentally, an area right behind our home). From there, it would trickle into the Crow River via Regal Creek.

As with any land management issue, this idea had a polarizing effect. Hunters were in favor of the plan, as the land now covered by Pelican Lake would be more fowl-friendly and bring in more ducks and geese. On the other side, fishermen were opposed to the idea, because low water would almost assuredly result in the winterkill of the bass, crappie, pike and sunfish that call the lake home.
A couple of people had asked my position on the matter, but found myself unable to respond... as I did not have the facts that might validate an opinion. Recently, however, I had a conversation with someone who did have the facts, and learned a little more about this complex situation.

Pelican Lake was nothing more than a seasonal slough as recently as the 1960s. It would be mildly flooded by the spring melt, but sustain hay and other crops through most of the summer. Then, in the late 60s or early 70s, something changed. Nobody knows whether it was because of inappropriate ditching, maybe a shift in the way area farmers were draining their fields, or if perhaps a department of transportation project significantly altered one or more canals in the area… but for one reason or another, the spring flood did not recede as far as they once did. And over the years, what was once a slough became deeper and deeper, even drowning some farm equipment that had been stored on the lands there. Eventually, the place became a lake—literally. Pelican Lake, at this writing, has a couple of spots as deep as twelve feet, although the prevailing depths in the central areas of the lake range from five to nine feet.

That explains the origin of the lake. Now… here is its destiny, at least as I understand it.

The area is a designated waterfowl preserve, with the Litchfield Watershed Management District, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources each participating in its management. However, primary management responsibility rests with the DNR-Wildlife, and the parcel is managed for wildlife, not fish. (See details at the DNR website by clicking here.) Thus, whether the lake should be drawn down has never really been a matter for debate; the endgame was apparently known all along, so there is essentially no room or reason for debate on the matter.

As for me--for what it might be worth-- I’m in favor of seeing the land be placed in its original condition, before humans started messing with it. If that means un-doing the water table that has been artificially set, so be it (and that sounds like what they’re going to do). That is perhaps not likely to be a popular attitude, but it is mine.

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Debris on Pelican Lake

Last evening, I had the pleasure of a kayak trip on Pelican Lake, just west of our home in St. Michael. I reclaimed perhaps 18 pounds of various trash (I cannot be completely accurate as I did not have my scale along). And I saw hundreds of pounds of additional debris that I could not reclaim from the vantage point of a kayak. There were a number of items that appeared to be one type of farm equipment or another.

Recently, I have learned these items were likely not discarded by someone as pollution. On the contrary, it is likely these items were borrowed by a spring flood -- and never returned -- as a temporary rise became a semi-permanent body of water that became known as Pelican Lake. (But I’ll offer more on that story later.)

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A renewed commitment to MN Adopt-A-River

In a recent email exchange with Paul and Eva at the Minnesota DNR, I continued by participation in the Adopt-A-River program. Specifically, I will maintain the two stretches of northern St. Croix River clean-up. But instead of re-filing on my stretch of Mississippi River, I have added an "at large" commitment of additional river conservation. That's because of the commitment of Tim Brown at Minneapolis Parks and Recreation to make sure work on our 9-mile section of north metro Mississippi is completed as a part of the MPRB's redevelopment effort... and because of Julie's and my relocation to St. Michael, Minnesota last year. I'll have greater access to the Crow River, the Sauk River and other creeks than I will the old section of the Ol' Miss.

Staying on top of this blog--and the next project I'd like to be working on--has been just out of reach but seldom out of mind over this past winter and spring. Work requirements have been stronger than ever in response to the recession and its' aftermath. And Julie and I have been rennovating our unfinished basement, a job that was more intense than I expected. Every moment of "free time" has gone to placing sheetrock, tile, and stone. We have suffered innumerable slivers, I have sanded-off my fingerprints while cutting stone for the fireplaced, and lifted more tonnage in home improvement supplies than anyone should be expected to carry without being employed by The Home Depot. But alas, the heavy work is done (on this, our final major home improvement project, period).

Today, I can say with confidence that anything left will wait. My rivers and wetlands are overdue, and I will now set my focus on giving them the attention they deserve.

Overdue, too, is the enjoyment and renewal I absorb from them.

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

Saturday, May 1, 2010

From Earth Day to May Day

(Or perhaps, “Mayday!”)

For people who invest their time, creativity and effort in conservation, the recent (and continuing) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is very difficult to watch. (For those who have not seen enough, I offer an Associated Press video below, which I found at the Washington Post.) The event began as a human tragedy, of course, including the loss of many human lives in a still-unexplained explosion and fire (the leading assumption is that drilling ruptured a pocket of flammable gas much earlier than anticipated). We shouldn’t forget that for many families, there will be an empty chair at the dinner table tonight. Those families deserve our prayers.

To overstate the obvious, the scope of this environmental tragedy is also immense. (Perspective is available through these Washington Post photos.)

On the high seas, “Mayday” is known the world over as a signal of distress. Until now, I have not written about the BP oil spill. But on May first, as the consequences wash ashore along the coastline of the Gulf near the mouth of the Mississippi River, May Day seemed both an appropriate time and term for it. Each of the three rivers I’ve personally focused on over the past few years are part of the Mississippi watershed. But rather than be discouraged, I think it’s a good time to realize the waterways need more help than ever.

The next time I stop for gas, I will remind myself that the price we’re paying for petroleum is far higher than its price per gallon.

The AP video is available immediately below.

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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy 40th Birthday, Earth Day

One of the most amazing rewards to come from the Apollo space program was, simply, perspective. For ages, humanity had looked skyward and seen distant images of the sun, moon and stars. We could not have known (until modern science intervened) how massive those objects really were.

Inversely, until distant photographs of the Earth were taken—from the perspective of Apollo 8, while in lunar orbit—few of us realized how small our little globe really was.

In the spring following our first moon landing (specifically, on April 22, 1970), Earth Day was born. A few months later, the Environmental Protection Agency was formally established. And since that first Earth Day, momentum has grown for the idea that natural resources and places must be actively protected and cared for.

Earth Day was established because the behaviors of a few can hold consequences for many. In 1970, those consequences were bad, and the few were villains. In 2010, it is my hope—no, my belief—that more and more people accept the need for behavioral change, and that the consequences will be good.

Happy 40th Birthday, Earth Day.

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

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Joining the iLCW

Recently, the demands of work have limited my chances to think about this blog. Thankfully, it is a season when little is to be done in the way of hands-on river clean-up, as most of the waterways are swollen with the runoff of the spring thaw. At best, I would be collecting thoughts from various news reports on matters of conservation, as I have done often over the winter months.

That said, I have been making slow but steady progress on a companion blog, one composed of brief pictorial and written essays about the amazing places I have been fortunate enough to visit, whether by kayak, canoe, or on foot. As a part of that project, I have been studying independently (when time allows) to improve my photography skills. By that, I don’t mean just learning how to run a camera… but thinking about how to be a good observer and student of the natural landscapes and wildlife within my reach. This process led me to an organization known as the International League of Conservation Photographers, a group which boasts some of the finest natural photojournalists on the planet. My current photo skills do not provide for participation in that elite group. (Think National Geographic, Audubon, Discovery Channel, etc.) But discovery of that organization has led me to another, somewhat related peer group: The International League of Conservation Writers.

The iLCW is a young organization, founded only this year. But its interests are parallel enough to my own that I applied to join, and was recently accepted as an associate member. Recently, my addition—along with two other writers from Canada and the United Kingdom—were announced in this brief release at the iLCW website.

I have been writing professionally, in one way or another, for somewhere north of thirty years, now. (You might not know it by my skills in grammar or punctuation, but I hope color and character are an adequate substitute for my shortfalls in English composition.) Most often, my writing has had something to do with advertising copy, media production, or more recently, research, consumer behavior, and related marketing matters. But writing is not only something I am paid to do; it is something I enjoy doing; more so over the past several years, as my life has been given the compliment of numerous outdoor experiences, and a new appreciation for the same.

You may never have heard of the International League of Conservation Writers, and perhaps you will never consider it a high-profile group. But I’m really looking forward to benefiting from—and contributing to—a group of like-minded people, who share the goal of helping others appreciate…


© 2010 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 8, 2010

An eyewitness account of global warming, from Will Steger

I belong to a LinkedIn group that is sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Recently they invited Will Steger, the famed Arctic and Antarctic explorer, to share insights he has gained through four decades of travel across the world’s ice caps.

I wasn't able to attend the original presentation, but a link to the recorded version is available online. The introduction and core presentation take about 37 minutes. You’ll be glad you took the time, when you click here to see the presentation.

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

If you're close to water, you might find some of these stories interesting

If you’re ever cleaned-up a dump site, this blog will bring a smile to your face. It explains how some conservation officers in Missouri tracked-down some dumpers with a little basic detective work.

Closer to home, the amazing prospect of water shortages in the land of lakes. This story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune explains how suburbs could over-tap ground water supplies in the not-so-distant future, and force more cities to drink from the Mississippi.

A question of cost-efficiency and compliance in Minnesota’s DNR set-aside program. In another story from the Star Tribune, questions are raised with regard to the amount spent on conservation easements and whether greater monitoring is in order.

A generous contribution to a big-name river group. A catalog company called “Orvis” plans to donate up to $120,000 to American Rivers, which intends to focus on two specific rivers as benefactors of the gift.

Family compensated for devoting land to conservation. A Florida program provides aid toward private conservation efforts, but might not be enough to protect the land from development, due to property tax rates.

Some of these stories illustrate just how much money changes hands in the name of conservation, stewardship, or environmental protection. I’m not sure why it’s so expensive to say, “clean-up after yourself,” and “don’t wreck the place, other people will need it when you’re long gone.”

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

One step forward and two steps back

Forward: Vermont story update. In the middle of February, I wrote a posting that mentioned a nuclear power plant in Vermont that was leaking tritium. Since that time, the state senate has voted to not renew the plant's operating permit when its current license expires in 2012. See this update from the February 26 edition of the New York Times.

Back: The Supreme Court gives us a tough Act to follow. Also from the New York Times (2/28/10 issue) comes this storyabout how recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court have severely weakened regulators ability to enforce the Clean Water Act of 1972. (The story is part of the impressive "Toxic Waters" series from the NY Times, which I highly recommend.)

It is hard to assume this situation is anything but political; arguments center on the meaning of the word "navigable" as it relates to whether a waterway can be regulated. It has always been my understanding of the Act that "navigable waters" mean any waterway which can be navigated by any watercraft, based on that waterway's annual high-water mark. In other words, if the river, stream or connected lake can be navigated during the high waters typically associated with a spring thaw, it is protected. But now, the spirit of the law has apparently been neutered. (I guess it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.")

Here's hoping the legislature can bring clarity to the meaning of the law, before the courts and their interests are allowed to irreparably "muddy the water." For more about the Clean Water Act, and how it was fought for, I highly recommend a book called The Riverkeepers, as explained in an article I wrote back in December, 2008. Or, visit the EPA website by clicking here.

Perhaps all of this is further support that when it comes to conservation, many things are beyond our control; those things within our reach must be addressed.

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 19, 2010

In the past month, some folks are making history (in a good way)

One of the Pacific’s great waterways goes natural. I’ve been spending the off-season watching various sources for news about various conservation projects. One of the biggest—in history—might be this week’s story about the Klamath River, which is shared by Oregon and California. Interested parties have agreed to a $1.5 billion restoration project, which involves the removal of four dams, with the goal of restoring Salmon habitat. There was a lot of coverage, but I liked this story from the New York Times for its factual manner. Many of the other releases were from various groups claiming credit for the pact. The fact is, when something like this is accomplished, lots of people deserve credit. Another perspective is offered by the San Francisco Examiner.

How about an international win-win for British Columbia and Montana. The Flathead River Basin will be without mining as the future unfolds, due to an agreement between provincial, state and federal governments. This story is now probably more than a week old, but you can read more about it in this summary from Google.

Closer to home, I discovered a new site this week. Introducing the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance… a group created last year with the goal of slowing the deterioration of this amazing water body on the upper Mississippi River. (The deterioration has to do with the deposit of sediment and fertilizing agents in the lake.) Their web site is interesting, but it is also useful, loaded with the kind of information that helps people understand both the science that impact water quality, as well as the laws which are intended to prevent the erosion of that water quality. Nice to meet you, LPLA.

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 15, 2010

From a natural point of view, sometimes headlines can look pretty stupid

Easier to prevent than repair. Industrial pollution dumped into the Hudson River decades ago arguably led to the whole environmental movement back in the late 60’s and 70’s. Still, nearly forty years later, the mess is being worked on. But dredging to remove PCBs from the river bottom is basically causing the harmful contaminants to be re-suspended in the water; a complication which is now being used by G.E. as a reason to suspend, stop or slow the clean-up. (I’m among those who would argue to the contrary; the complexity of this clean-up stands as proof that it should not be bequeathed to future generations to deal with.) See this story from the Poughkeepsie Journal.

The previous story makes me wonder how stories like this one can possibly be happening. A power plant in Vermont is apparently leaking an isotope that is “not as serious as some other isotopes are.” They don’t know where or why the material is leaking from the plant, and they have no intention of shutting the plant down while they look. Apparently, they’re afraid that if they shut the plant down, it won’t leak anymore, so they won’t be able to find…

Oh, never mind. For one of those stories that asks “how can this possibly happen,” click here to visit the Times Argus report.

I was struck by two articles in Sunday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune. One had to do with observations about the ability of some wildlife to hide in plain sight. The other was an example of people’s ability to hide their common sense and courtesy.

The first article was about an upcoming hearing of the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District; the group will hold a hearing to discuss whether the size of docks should be regulated on the heavily populated Lake Minnetonka. The question is whether large docks are killing aquatic weeds and flora. It was not the story, so much, that was unnerving, but the comment section, where a number of readers left less-than cordial remarks. (Click here to read the story.) I shouldn’t be surprised; the comments found under many stories at that site are intended more to amuse the contributor than to add perspective to an issue. But in this case, the name-calling and rudeness cannot even be called childish, as children are generally more polite and intelligent than that.

As for me, the story simply states that the Conservation District is looking into whether they should see if aquatic life is being harmed by large or numerous docks. If there is no harm, no one should have anything to worry about. If harm is discovered, they the group is simply dispatching the care they are charged with. My limited understanding of the matter is that landowners do not own lake property in this case… just the land that is adjacent to that lake. Navigable waters and certain wetlands are under the public domain, and nobody has the right to use those lands or waters in a manner which could compromise the publicly-owned resource. Disagree if you will, but please be more civil than those who left comments at the Strib website.

So as to leave on a positive note…

Bill Marchel’s story about the natural camouflage of owls, weasels, the snowshoe hare and other regional wildlife was brief but very good read. (Click here to read the story.) Again, I’m reminded that of all the wildlife I’ve seen, the number of critters that have seen me on a trip down the river or a walk through the woods is likely far greater.

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

And the learning continues: Conservation news from all over

Considering the possibilities of a restored river. The Mississippi River has long been close to the heart of this project. So I enjoy staying in touch with the progress being made with regard to the renewed stewardship she seems to be getting lately. Here’s a recent update from the South Washington County Bulletin. What makes this project significant is that it considers the greater watershed, including the impact of water quality in the Vermillion and Minnesota Rivers, in relation to the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin downstream. I look forward to hearing more about this project, known as the Mississippi Makeover, as it flows along.

I enjoy reading any story that shares genuine appreciation for natural resources. And this story fits the bill, as written by Ed Godfrey for the Oklahoman. He is describing the Blue River in southern Oklahoma. Enjoy.

And this story makes it worthwhile to share a second item from Oklahoma. Read this piece from Tulsa World, about a young man who fully intends to explore the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River in spite of challenges like impaired vision and extreme sensitivity to sunlight.

Eco-tourism as economic development. I came across this story in the Wall Street Journal quite some time ago… but I’m just getting around to sharing it now. It’s about some rural villages in Cambodia that have turned he environment into an industry… protecting some really cool places, and giving the region a much-needed economic boost. It’s a long story, but it is fascinating.

The Friant Dam lets it flow. I’m still intrigued by the restoration efforts on the San Joaquin River. Here’s another story from ABC30 in Fresno.

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Notes of interest worth some of your weekend

Recycling, simplified. One of the most frustrating thing about river clean-up is that, by nature, every chunk of trash in the water was utterly preventable pollution. (Especially the floatables!) That said, you’ll understand why I appreciate a website that was forwarded to me by friend Scott Bretey. The site is called “Earth911.com.” It turns the task of recycling—even hard-to-recycle items, like electronics—into a more easy, convenient task. You type in the trash you’d like to recycle, along with your zip code, and it takes you to the most convenient options. Thanks for sharing, Scott!

Some pages of Mississippi River history. I stumbled across an interesting blog entry this week, a product (and project) of the Pennsylvania Historical Society. (Click here to take a look.) It gives us an idea of how young this part of the country really is, and how crude (but effective) early methods of measuring flooding and flow really were. I shared the link with my brother Kevin earlier, who happens to live in PA, and who has recently been studying some history about railroad crossings over the great river. In a response, he wrote that he enjoyed “…the subtlety of the colors in these old lithographs. And though they are just basic landscapes, there is something romantic about them. [It] was not that long ago at all that this continent was largely unexplored and unmapped. Compared to most of the world, we are a young nation still.”

Another story on river and habitat management. From the Deseret News, regarding the restoration of sand bars through artificial flooding. Gosh, I have to wonder whether human intervention is the more the source of the solution… or the problem. (I’m just sayin.’) Click here for more. I appreciate the work of the USGS. But long range problems like those being experienced now on the Colorado River and it’s tributaries… are precisely the kind of thing we should be very careful about the dams, dikes, levees and developments are built in the first place. I’m not here to judge… only to suggest great care in future development decisions which could alter where a river wants to go.

Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow. I’ve been watching progress as water is again released from the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River in California. Here’s a story from an ABC affiliate KFSN-TV in Fresno about the resumption of flows earlier this week.

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

If conservation starts with appreciation, some great things are starting upstream on the Crow River

Since moving to St. Michael, I've met a number of new friends who are involved with the task of conservation, through a wide variety of projects. I'd like to introduce you to one of those people... and a project that has effectively connected hundreds of youth with the outdoors.

The group is called "The Crow River Trail Guards," and it was founded in 1992 by Paynesville resident Tom Koshiol.

Rather than explain this program to you, I'm going to suggest that you visit the Trail Guards website (http://www.trailguards.org/), after watching this fantastic video produced by and aired on Life to the Max:

When you consider how Mr. Koshiol has influenced so many young people to connect with their natural surroundings... you can only conclude that the impact of this project is beyond measure.

Thanks, Tom.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ideas, Input, Idiots... and a Birdseye View

Ideas: About protection on the Minnesota River. Incentives for riverside property owners that would encourage buffer zones and other conservation practices. I came across this story in the West Central Tribune out of Willmar, Minnesota.

Input: For the Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework. Everyday people are being invited to provide input about the protection and care of Minnesota’s surface and groundwater, in meetings sponsored by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, and the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota. There are still several meeting dates around the state; get details and take an online survey when you click here to see the project summary.

Idiots: Creating a senseless trend. As someone with a deep appreciation for wildlife, a story this week in USA Today inspired anger, sympathy and disbelief. Click here to read the piece on “Thrill Killing” of deer, elk, raccoon and other critters. Warning: The story will leave you frustrated and confused.

A birdseye view. I am late in sharing this, but came across the item in one of my "save" folders. This was a story from back in December that I found in the Press & Dakotan newspaper out of Yankton, South Dakota. It offers a great "decade at a glance" about things imacting the Missouri River. (I find stories like this helpful, as they provide a context for how short-term behaviors and decisions can have a long-term impact. This one was particularly well done, I think.)

© 2010 Michael Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Two quick thoughts before the weekend ends

A story about the hidden headwaters. My brother Kevin was recently doing some research about early railroad crossings over the Mississippi River near Brainerd... when he found an interesting story online about the expedition of Captain Willard Glazier. The story is offered by a trading company representing a family that is selling one of the three canoes reportedly used in Captain Glazier’s expedition. I’m not in a position to buy such an artifact, but the story itself carried me away. Enjoy it by clicking here.

The discussion on the Red isn’t over yet. Recently, I wrote about the NY Times story on flooding in the Red River Valley. Last week, I learned of meetings intended to facilitate dialogue about flooding issues… from a story in the Grand Forks Herald (registration required).

I connected with an old friend from Bemidji this week. Bob Wagner and I met during a cleanup project on the Mississippi River (and worked together on a couple of other civic events) back in the early 90's. He's doing some VERY cool work in his woodshop, near his home on the Turtle River. Explore his talents at http://riverwooddesign.net/.

© 2010 Michael Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cleaning or clouding the waters

Fundraising is a tricky business. One that I’m glad I’m not in at this point. (As I have written before here, CleanUpTheRiver.com is neither a non-profit organization nor a for-profit business. I’m a guy with a kayak and an attitude who picks up trash, takes an inventory of river sites that need attention, and shares conservation issues on a blog.)

This past week, two different conservation groups got two different kinds of reactions from their fundraising efforts.

First, the good news. The McKnight Foundation contributed significant sums to a variety of river restoration groups. The largest benefactor was the Mississippi River, as you can see from this BizJournals story. But another group to receive money was “C.U.R.E.,” short for “Clean Up The River Environment” out of Montevideo, Minnesota. I am not a member of C.U.R.E., but I’ve followed it for a while, and they seem to be doing some good work on the Minnesota River. So, congrats, C.U.R.E.! And congratulations, too, to the McKnight Foundation, which continues to be both thoughtful and generous in their donations.

Now, the not-so-good news. Another notable conservation group got pounded pretty hard in a story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune… for allegedly over-dramatizing the extent to which straight pipe pollution is a problem on the Sunrise River in a recent fundraising newsletter. I was really sorry to see that. If it is true that the problem was over-stated, it not only harms the credibility of the authoring organization. It harms any group that requests funds in the name of their work in conservation and environmental protection.

I am reminded that, where charities are concerned… it is best to contribute not based on an organization’s ability to state a problem, but rather, on the basis of the solution they bring to that problem.

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

A footnote about the Riverside Inn & Tavern

Last year about this time, I wrote a blog posting about the Riverside Inn and Tavern, located in Woodland, Washington. The bar and grill had been owned by my Aunt Mary, who is now long gone. Someone researching the Lewis River came across that article, and was nice enough to leave a comment at the bottom.

This week, that visitor returned to the blog to leave another comment; and to let me know that the Riverside, and Aunt Mary’s home next door, had been torn down. In their place now stands Josiah’s, a new establishment that seems to already be quite popular with the locals. It’s nice to hear success has found its way back to that site along the river. I hope they really, truly enjoy it.

It was nice to get the comment and the update. It served as a reminder that none of us is bigger than Mother Nature or Father Time.
(I'm really glad I shot some pictures on that trip.)
© Michael D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Recent river- and conservation-related headlines

North of Fargo, they’re seeing Red. This story is close to my heart because I was raised on the Red River of the North, in Drayton, North Dakota. The spring flood has become an increasingly dangerous event there, as years of ditching and development to the south have led to more aggressive spring run-offs (and even unseasonal flooding). But to make matters worse, there is now a plan to re-route the floodwater around Fargo/Moorhead... complicating the situation for folks who live downstream (north) of that city. After all, the floodwater has to go somewhere. This is a great story of cause and effect… and a great reminder that it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature. See the story here.

Recession impacts preservation… in a good way. Lots of organizations whose tactics include the purchase real estate to preserve important places are taking advantage of depressed land prices to make their move. See this story from the New York Times.

Fish fight. The Great Lakes states are feuding over the Asian Carp issue, according to another NY Times story. Michigan and other states are imploring Illinois to close the canals that could help the fish move from the Mississippi watershed into Lake Michigan. Click here for the scoop.

Air care. I’ve written in this space, recently, that the EPA is promising stricter enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Well, it looks like they’re taking their fight to the air, too, as they move to toughen standards for air pollution. Relative because almost everything we dump into the air is ground- and water-bound. Here’s the story.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Year-end report for Adopt-a-River

As a participant in Minnesota's Adopt-a-River program, I file a report with the DNR at the end of each season about the amount of trash that we've taken from the waterways we enjoy. This year, my haul was relatively small (compared to last year), which I blame on the move... and the health-related time-out I was forced to take in August and September.

Paul Nordell from the DNR responded to the report with a kind note, pointing out that there is merit in the effort; even if it has slowed, it has been steady:


Thanks for your report. It is always good to see persistence in the task. That is the ultimate goal of the program. Persistence is what changes things. Heroic results are always nice, but they are just flashes in the pan. Before AAR and its ilk enter an area, certain trash items remain on the landscape until nature itself either dissolves it, corrodes it, grows moss over it, buries it into a geologic strata, or simply washes or blows it away. If only a few items are out there, we think it is rustic, but when it is large, newly deposited, or appearing in great abundance, the damage to the view, the wildlife and the resource in general becomes clearly irritating. Thank you for reducing the irritation on our public waters. We [the Adopt-a-River program] have now tallied just over 5.7 million pounds of trash since 1989.

For the public waters,

Paul Nordell

About the same time, Eva Johnson from the DNR sent an email, noting our progress, specifically:

"...You have now removed 1,620 lbs over the course of 13 cleanups since your formal adoption began in early 2008."

Certainly, I should be able to clear the one ton mark by late spring.

© 2010 Mike Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Before I bid it farewell, a photo finish to 2009

Let me share a visual image of an experience I had on one hot July day last summer.

Not long after putting-in on the Crow River, near Hanover, I got hung-up in the rocks of some too-shallow rapids. Seeing any moment on the river as a privilege this year, the problem did not frustrate me. Instead of hurrying to climb out of the boat and move on, I just sat in my kayak, lodged in the rocks, and soaked-up the surroundings for a moment.

From that vantage point, I noticed a small doe, perhaps 150 to 200 yards downstream. It occurred to me that the breeze was coming from her direction, covering my scent… and the noise of the rapids was covering the sound I may have made paddling toward her. So, I dismantled my paddle and placed it in the boat… and then used my hands to “walk” the kayak out of my predicament on the rapids. Once loose, I ducked down a bit, took out my camera, and started shooting photos with one hand, while using my other hand to “rudder” toward the deer.

With this quiet approach, she allowed me to get within ten to twelve feet of her; close enough to note that she had been injured… probably by an automobile, as I could make out the grill marks on her rib cage. She did not dart away, but continued cooling herself in the river, until peaceably stepping up to the shoreline and into the woods. (Click on the photo above to enlarge, and then hit your “back” button to return.)

Having learned of a photo contest sponsored by the Joint Powers board of the Crow River Organization of Water (C.R.O.W.), I submitted the picture (along with some others)... and it won in the wildlife category. See the other winners by visiting the CrowRiver.org web site; the other categories include recreation, scenery/landscape, fishing, and unusual finds.

I’d like to salute Diane Saunder and the whole Crow River watershed organization for this really good example of conservation outreach. A simple photo contest? Perhaps. But it’s another way of getting more people to notice—and share—some great sights from a river that many people might otherwise take for granted.

© 2010 Mike Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.