Reviving our river: The Cedar River is coming alive

Published 7:33 am Sunday, May 6, 2018

By Tim Ruzek

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

Mower County is one of four counties in Minnesota without a natural lake.

Email newsletter signup

That doesn’t mean, however, that locals have had to skip on water recreational fun, especially with the revival in recent years of our Cedar River State Water Trail.

This story was featured in April’s special section, “Gem of a River: Exploring the Cedar River State Water Trail.”

Since the first settlers back in the 1850s, the Cedar River and other local waterways have been used for recreation —whether that be using a paddle in a canoe and chugging along in a motorized boat. While the numerous dams built on the Cedar River helped run grain mills and generate power, the backwater created by those structures also offered locals recreational opportunities.

Eventually, though, the perspective and use of the Cedar River and other local waterways for recreation receded significantly despite its rich history and beautifully wooded corridor that cuts and winds through the predominantly flat and agricultural landscape.

Knowing this, the Cedar River Watershed District staff in 2011 proposed getting the Cedar River designated by the Legislature as an official state water trail under the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources program. The idea got legislative approval that year thanks to the work of local state legislators Sen. Dan Sparks and Rep. Jeanne Poppe as well as support from DNR staff.

In spring 2012, the Cedar River officially was launched by the DNR as a “state water trail,” which included fold-out trail maps with various information, including red dots designating every river mile.

The designation also led to the creation of a webpage devoted to the Cedar River State Water Trail and for more attention by DNR crews to search for and remove navigational hazards on the river, such as fallen trees.

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

At the same time, Austin’s community improvement initiative, Vision 2020, started 10 citizen committees, including one focused on our local waterways. This effort has led to numerous projects that have raised awareness and improved the Cedar River State Water Trail, Dobbins Creek and other local streams in the watershed.

Work by the Vision 2020 Waterways Committee – including waterways enhancements, water recreation, water quality improvements and water education – now will be continued by the CRWD’s newly revamped Citizens Advisory Committee.

A big boost to the Cedar River’s revival then occurred during the 2015 summer with the start of the Cedar River Canoe & Rental Service in Austin. Owned by Brian and Dorothy Pirmantgen, the canoe/kayak rental business – the only outfitter as of now for the Cedar River State Water Trail – has seen steady growth each year, with a major increase in canoe and kayak rentals in 2016, including by visitors to the community.

Numerous projects are in the works for enhancing the Cedar River State Water Trail.

All of us at CRWD hope you either continue to use or try to get out on the water this season on the Cedar River State Water Trail. We also want your ideas, observations and questions related to our local watershed.

There are many great places to enjoy the river and its natural surroundings on the Minnesota side of the Cedar. Go find your favorite Cedar scene this season.