Reflections St. Croix scenic National RiverwaY

The River Management Society (RMS), in partnership with the Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinating Council (IWSRCC) initiated a project to share stories from river managers and planners who have completed Comprehensive River Management Plans (CRMPs) or commensurate system of National Park Service management plans for Wild and Scenic Rivers they manage. The professionals highlighted in these articles have developed, revised and deployed these plans with a common goal to protect and enhance the free-flowing condition, water quality and outstandingly remarkable values of Wild and Scenic Rivers (WSRs).

St. Croix by Paul Vincent

St. Croix Scenic National Riverway

National Park Service, MN and WI

In 1968, 200 miles of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, which includes its major tributary the Namekagon, was established as one of the original eight rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Today, the federal zone of the Riverway is a total of 230 miles with another 25 miles in the state zone thanks to an addition in 1972. The St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers offer clean water that glides and rushes past a lush green landscape, with glimpses of human presence. Several metropolitan areas bring a wide range of recreationists who enjoy activities including paddling on class I-II rapids, boating, camping, fishing, and hiking along its scenic shores. The communities along the corridor hold a variety of annual festivals related to the river and cherish it for many different reasons.

Julie Galonska

Julie has worked with the National Park Service her entire career and came into her current position as the park superintendent with a background in cultural resource management, education and interpretation. Working as a historian early in her career gave her the ability to acknowledge the context of the river and consider people’s perspectives more deeply. Her goal is to maintain a balance between the natural, cultural, and recreational values of the park for generations to come. Recognizing that people are an inherent part of the environment, she continues to consider ways to balance the impacts of recreation with the natural features of the St. Croix and Namekagon.

Managing Scenic Easements

Wild and Scenic River corridors may include both public and private lands and cooperation across mixed land ownership is critical to the success of WSR management. The St. Croix Riverway, one of the original eight WSRs designated in 1968, is situated on land that is a mix of public, tribal and private ownership with NPS scenic easements on many private tracts.

Julie: “We have more scenic easements at the Riverway than any other unit, 20% of the total in the entire National Park System, so that keeps us busy! Staffing for our entire Lands division is one person.”

The St. Croix Riverway has found methods to assist with scenic easement monitoring by partnering with the St. Croix River Association, the Riverway’s official nonprofit partner. This organization enlists college students and recent graduates as seasonal staff and interns to work with the National Park Service to photograph and note visual changes to scenic easement properties along the Riverway. They develop a field folder for every single tract so changes can be referenced over time. Managers continue to grapple with managing scenic easements along several hundred miles of river but they make sure to employ pre-emptive actions.

Julie: “It’s important that scenic easement landowners understand their responsibilities under the scenic easement: every June, we send out 800 letters to remind them. If the property has changed hands, the letter goes to the same easement property address, so the new owner gets that letter! The St. Croix River Association has also offered classes about zoning and scenic easements to realtors who work along the lower St. Croix Riverway. When they learn exactly what WSRs and scenic easements are and how they work, they can pass this on with confidence to their buyers and sellers to address misconceptions or misinformation found elsewhere. We don’t have scenic easements on every piece of private property, so we often work with county and local zoning offices to help make sure those scenic views are protected.”

St. Croix River by Richard Tsong-Taatarii

The St. Croix is close to growing metro areas with pressure for more river front residences and infrastructure crossings such as bridges and pipelines that can have visual impacts. River managers work with private partners to protect and enhance river values by finding creative solutions. When a rural broadband project involved installing a fiber optic cable along the river, one of the ideas was to attach the cable to an existing bridge rather than digging up the bank. There are over three hundred utility crossings in the corridor which include transmission lines, cables, electric, natural gas, oil, and many bridges. As this infrastructure needs repair or replacement, one of the key questions is how to reduce the visual impact from the river. For example, can overhead powerlines be removed and buried?

Monitoring Water Quality and Freshwater Habitat

New means to measure and evaluate river attributes are improving monitoring projects on the St. Croix. For example, the use of tablet computers and digital field monitoring forms can display conditions in real-time. Technology will also help in addressing significant challenges like the spread of invasive carp, an issue being explored at the University of Minnesota’s Aquatic Inasive Species Research Center. The fisheries community is also full of great resources to help guide management decisions.

Julie: “The states lead fisheries management. An annual meeting brings together Wisconsin, Minnesota, the National Park Service and other agencies to talk about the fish population and regulation.”

Julie works to make sure water quality is efficiently and thoroughly monitored too.

Julie: “Water quality is probably what we monitor most effectively. For our water quality monitoring program, we sample monthly at ten different locations, collect that data and analyze it. We also collaborate with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, US Army Corps of Engineers, and state DNRs to monitor native mussel populations.”

The St. Croix NPS staff work closely with state partners on water quality because the NPS does not have regulatory authority in this area. The multiple jurisdictions along the St. Croix can be tricky to balance in this arena. For example, phosphorus is monitored by the state of Minnesota and the state of Wisconsin, but they sometimes have different standards for what is considered impairment and must work together to make management decisions based on that data.

Partnerships and Interpretation

Professionals such as historic preservationists, and invasive specialist teams, can partner with WSR managers to provide expertise not available locally.

Julie: “We have a fantastic collection of remnants of navigational structures the Army Corps of Engineers built in the late 1800’s. We brought in staff from the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center a few years ago who spent six weeks here documenting and exploring structures along the lower St. Croix of people who came before us. Their work has made it possible for us and our visitors to remember we’re connected to a bigger picture.”

Other groups that are essential to funding and implementing planning efforts include local friends’ groups. Partners can raise funds for infrastructure projects and hire seasonal interns to work on projects.

Julie: “The more partners we can bring together, the better. Our local watershed councils and local universities are also very active along the Riverway.”

The National Park Service on the St. Croix has partnered with the St. Croix River Association and local elementary schools to introduce youth to their rivers. Interested children bring their families and friends back to the rivers, and agency staff teach the public community how to enjoy the benefits of the river year-round, notably outside of peak seasons.

Elementary students experience the Rivers Are Alive Program on the SCNR. Photo by Greg Seitz

Julie: ”Not every kid has a parent or grandparent, or someone else in their life who’s going to bring them to the river. By reaching out to teachers who bring their classes to the river for a field trip, we’ve connected with those kids.”

Preexisting Land Ownership, Rights, Activities

Supporting the treaty rights and jurisdiction of local Tribes is important for them to maintain their historical activities in the corridor. Describing cultural values and Tribal partnerships in the plan creates an opportunity to honor traditional treaty rights and identify Tribal connection to WSR stewardship.

Wild rice harvesting on the St. Croix by J. Schaeppi

Julie: “There are American Indian Tribes that have treaty rights that they exercise at the Riverway. For example, wild rice is very important to the Ojibwe and harvesting occurs every year. In addition, there are sloughs on the river that might be good places for wild rice to grow. That’s an area we think we can have some alignment – a place we can do some reseeding of wild rice and another area that could be harvested would be a benefit to the tribes.”

Continuing education with local users about land ownership and what Wild and Scenic designation means is necessary to protect the values of the rivers as well. The plan should include flexibility for new or enhanced access points and river trails on non-federal lands. These should be compliant with the plan and consider trends in user recreation types and use levels.

Julie: “One community decided it would be great if they had a dock for kayaks and canoes to pull up to – and they just put one in without talking to anyone. They just wanted to try to create an improvement for their community, and it didn’t occur to them that putting in a dock might involve a Federal process.”

Public awareness and education can teach that there is a necessary process for building structures in and alongside wild and scenic rivers. Julie also works closely with State agencies who are responsible for different resources throughout the corridor.

Julie: “A big thing to think through is, ‘Who owns the streambed and water surface?’ In Minnesota, the State owns the river bottom while in Wisconsin it belongs to the riparian owner: it can get confusing quickly.”

Partnerships and processes could be improved by including as much detail as possible on jurisdiction, roles, and responsibilities of State Agencies in the management plan.

Networks of Expertise

Reaching out to regional and national networks of river managers pays off. They are valuable resources from whom others can learn about different monitoring techniques. Networking opportunities for river managers at national and regional meetups allow the sharing of successful strategies.

Julie: “In 2018, the NPS Superintendents of the seven river parks in the Midwest Region gathered here at the St. Croix for a two-and-a half-day meeting where we talked about river issues. We were able to get to know each other better and learn who we can call on various issues. You can find great solutions for your river by reaching out to those in your or other organizations with expertise. They will be happy to help you train up your staff, so we are all more knowledgeable about what we need to do to comply with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.”

RMS advances the profession of river management by providing a unique variety of forums for sharing information about the appropriate use and management of river resources. RMS continues to build its base of expertise in all aspects of river management and stewardship including an ecosystem approach to recreation, water quality, riparian health, and watershed management. Besides creating multiple opportunities each year for river professionals to learn, train and network, RMS is growing partnerships that will help river professionals serve both our river resources and the people who use and enjoy them.


IMG1 - Taylor Falls St. Croix, Reddit Images IMG2 - St. Croix by Paul Vincent IMG3 - Julie Galonska, Park Superintendent IMG4 - St. Croix River by Richard Tsong-Taatarii IMG5 - Searching for mussels on the St. Croix, by Greg Seitz IMG6 - National Park Service Submerged Resources Team by Kevin Duchschere IMG7 - Elementary students experience the Rivers Are Alive Program on the SCNR by Greg Seitz IMG8 - Wild rice harvesting on the St. Croix by Joseph Schaeppi