Go with the flow; With the designation of the Cedar River State Water Trail area water enthusiasts have a great new way to get out and paddle

Published 7:11 am Saturday, July 14, 2018

There is more to the Cedar River than meets the eye and now it has been recognized by the state of Minnesota.

In 2012, the state designated the river as the Cedar River State Water Trail, and along with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, local water groups and activists have worked to maintain the health of Mower County’s biggest and most prominent body of water ever since.

“It’s a real nice river to paddle for all skill levels and ages,” said Tim Ruzek, water plan and outreach coordinator for the Mower Soil and Water Conservation District.

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Ruzek, along with Mower Soil and Water Conservation District Watershed Technician James Fett, accompanied me on a leisurely tour of the river on a pleasant May afternoon.

It wasn’t the first time I had been invited to experience the Cedar River by paddle. A number of years ago, I took a similar trip with another group both north and south of Ramsey Mill Pond dam for the same reasons — showing off the natural water resource available for recreation right here in Austin and Mower County.

This story and more found in the July-August edition of Austin Living magazine, out now!

What was striking about that trip was how removed we felt paddling the river, especially to the south as we snaked through Austin.

An Austin that didn’t seem to exist outside the boarders of thick and tangled trees.

However, our most recent trip had us completely out of the city, but still surrounded by the same great natural barrier.

“Basically, in more general terms, this is a nice wooded corridor,” Ruzek said.

We put in at the bridge over the river on County Road 28, south of Austin.

It proved to be a nice highlight to the need for more access points, however. Currently there is an easy access behind Marcusen Park in Austin as well as one just off from the Sola Fide Observatory.

“We’re trying to add more accesses,” Ruzek said. “We need another good access site south of Austin and ideally we need another good access in the Lansing area.”

That’s not to say it’s not accessible. With the steep incline, Fett simply let the canoe gently slide down the slope. A few moments later and we were in the water, eased along by a quick, but not overbearing flow.

There was very little paddling involved as we coasted; however, a trip north on the river would provide a strenuous workout.

What the river does really well is bring the world around us into focus.

“It slows things down for you to observe nature and people who really enjoy fishing it,” Ruzek said.

Since 2011, when the idea was first brought before the state legislature to designate the river a state trail, much has been done to highlight the Cedar River which often times in the past has received a harsh reputation as being polluted and unpleasant.

James Fett and Tim Ruzek, right, paddle over a faster part of the river, that still provides a nice comfortable pace.

Something that wasn’t entirely false. For years it was a dumping ground for garbage and tires and so many other things pushed along by frequent flooding.

But regular clean-ups have brought the river back and while you still find tires from time to time, like the one snarled in a tangle of fallen tree root on our trip, it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be.

“We’ve received a lot of good comments,” Ruzek said. “There’s not a lot of trash anymore from all the floods and tire dumpings.”

That’s something that’s becoming more and more evident through the uptick in recreation on the river, he said. “Overall, water recreation is trending upward,” Ruzek said.

Most obvious about being on the river is the natural world around it as well as some nods to history.

The songs of birds accompanied us the entire way with hints of fish here and there. Trees were in full leaf color along the thickly lined shores, shutting out the farm fields beyond.

During our stretch from Highway 28 and the access point near Sola Fide, we drifted past an older building along the eastern shore that marked the point of a former dam.

This was just another opportunity for river proponents to show off the Cedar River. Internally, they have been working around the clock it seems to let others know the river is there.

Among those initiatives is a photo contest started in 2017 and continuing this year.

The contest rewards the grand prize winner with a brand-new kayak, but it also highlights the opportunity for people to get on the water as well as showing off the fun the public is having with the river.

“One of the funnest things [we’ve done] is the photo contest,” Ruzek said. “You get a really nice perspective on how people are using it and how much they are using it.”

There’s plenty of work still to do. Including the access points. Ruzek said they still want to put more signs up to help promote the river as well as other ways to further enhance the Cedar.

But for now, the river is in great shape and ready for anybody wanting to get away from the world for a day.

It took us between a half hour and 45 minutes to reach our journey’s end, but it didn’t seem that long.

With so much to see in just a short span of time, it doesn’t take much to imagine what a full day’s paddle might hold for river adventurers.

“I know from growing up here, I wouldn’t even touch the water,” Ruzek said, thinking back to how the river used to be. “It has its impairments that we continue to work on and address, but it’s a great water resource.”