New chapter begins for Cedar River

Published 10:07 am Thursday, June 21, 2012

Joel Wagar, DNR area parks and trails supervisor, speaks about the state water trail designation and what it means for the future of the Cedar River. -- Matt Peterson/

State water trail designation adds more appeal to river

Most would be hard-pressed to find two people happier about potential improvements to the Cedar River than Justin Hanson and Polly Jelinek.

Justin Hanson and Polly Jelinek skim through pages of Cedar River history that Jelinek has compiled, as her family has lived on the river since 1886.

Hanson, a CRWD resource specialist, and Jelinek, a self-proclaimed “river rat” who has always lived on the Cedar’s banks, are two of many people who have been working hard for years to make something more of the Cedar River, and Wednesday night it was evident their efforts were worthwhile.

Officials from the Cedar River Watershed District, Department of Natural Resources, local legislators and historians joined at the Austin Public Library during the official launch of the Cedar River as a state water trail. With the Cedar’s water gently flowing through Mill Pond just behind them, officials and residents — including Hanson and Jelinek — thanked each other for all the efforts.

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Hanson has been working on the Cedar River since he came to the area in 2004 and has been pushing for a state water trail during the last year.


Jelinek, on the other hand, has been with the river for almost 80 years. One could consider her the Cedar’s unofficial historian, too, as she was a walking encyclopedia during Wednesday’s event. Much of Jelinek’s family has shared a history with the Cedar River dating back to 1886. Jelinek remembers when numerous businesses lined the river, and her own family operated a boating business there. She has watched the river’s grandeur fade over the years as trash and pollutants have accumulated. She hopes that will change.

“It makes me feel good,” she said about all the local effort to improve the river. The river now has its own DNR Web page with links, maps and detailed information, and DNR officials will continue to clear brush from the new 25-mile recreational route each year. The Cedar is now the 33rd designated water trail in Minnesota, and officials have plans to install more and better access sites.

“It’s a pretty river,” said Joel Wagar, DNR area parks and trails supervisor. “You would not know that you have farmland just immediately on either side of the river.” Wagar will now oversee much of the work on the water trail.

Wagar also noted how volunteers, legislators and organizations all working together have made improving the Cedar River run much more smoothly. Hanson has clearly seen that first-hand, and he seemingly has more interest than any to hear Jelinek’s memories.

“Maybe initiatives like this can get things back to the way they used to be,” Hanson said.

After the event, Hanson flipped through pages of history, pictures and documents that Jelinek has compiled over the decades.

Through all the changes Jelinek has seen — businesses here and gone, roads and bridges ever changing, boating disappearing from the Cedar almost entirely — she can begin adding another chapter to her scrapbook.