St. Croix River
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. In 1972, an additional 27 miles of the lower St. Croix River was the first riverway segment added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System by Congress since its inception in 1968. This segment flows along the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin, from Taylor's Falls Dam downstream for 27 miles. This legislation also directed the Secretary of the Interior to add the next 25 miles down to the confluence with the Mississippi River as a state-administered river following application by the governors of Minnesota and Wisconsin (under Section 2(a)(ii) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act). This approval was given on June 17, 1976.
The St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers offer clean water, gliding or rushing past a lush green landscape, with glimpses of a human presence. Choose to canoe and camp amid the northwoods, or boat and fish surrounded by wooded bluffs and historic towns. This river corridor provides bountiful scenic views and a haven for wildlife near a major metropolitan area.
October 2, 1968: The segment between the dam near Taylor Falls, Minnesota, and the dam near Gordon, Wisconsin. The Namekagon River from Lake Namekagon downstream to its confluence with the St. Croix River.
October 25, 1972: The segment from the dam near Taylors Falls, Minnesota, downstream 27 miles.
June 17, 1976: The segment from the confluence with the Mississippi River upstream 25 miles.
The continuum of human occupation along the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers encompasses diverse cultures and uses. People have lived along the rivers for at least 12,000 years, since the final retreat of the glaciers at the end of the most recent ice age, and have continually taken advantage of the abundant natural resources. As a connection between the Mississippi River and Lake Superior, these rivers served as an American Indian trade route and a corridor with a wealth of natural resources. Some areas remain important cultural sites to tribes for religious and traditional activities.
Beginning in the late 1600s, Europeans came to the area to exploit the fur resources. European fur traders traveled the rivers to trade, primarily with the Dakota and Ojibwe. Evidence of these interactions includes fur posts, portages, and campsites. With the 1837 treaty that opened the area to settlement by European Americans and the decline of the fur trade, logging became the primary economic driver.
Unlike many rivers that have been manipulated to serve the needs of industry and commerce, the St. Croix and Namekagon remain connected to their floodplain. As a result, both rivers have high-quality riparian zones, with those along the St. Croix River being generally larger in size due to its larger floodplain. Riparian zones are the interface between the land and the river and are important ecologically for their unique habitats and high biodiversity.
The geologic story of St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is rich. It includes the Midcontinent Rift with exposed igneous rock, sedimentary bedrock, glacial features, and fluvial landforms. The Midcontinent Rift occurred about one billion years ago when the North American continent began to split apart. The rift failed but not before lava flowed from it and cooled, forming basalt. Sedimentary rock, including Cambrian sandstones and Ordovician carbonate, were laid down when the area was covered by a vast inland sea 500 million years ago. During the glacial retreat about 10,000 years ago, a series of proglacial lakes formed at the retreating front of the glaciers; one of them was Glacial Lake Duluth. Other glacial features along the Riverway include deposits such as moraines, glacial outwash, till, and lake clays.
From its headwaters to its confluence with the Mississippi, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway offers a diverse continuum of high-quality, multi-season recreational experiences within a short drive of a large metropolitan area. The St. Croix River offers outdoor enthusiasts a chance to enjoy a wilderness-like experience and a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities. On the upper portion of the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers, Class I-II rapids challenge the canoeist. The lower St. Croix is popular for recreational enthusiasts, who enjoy canoeing, boating, fishing, rock climbing, and hiking along its scenic shores. At the very lowest end, where the river widens as Lake St. Croix, power and sail boating are popular. Anglers, campers, picnickers, swimmers. and birdwatchers enjoy its variety of scenery throughout.
A dynamic range of colors, textures, landforms, and historic and cultural sights provides visitors with a sense of anticipation as they round the bend in a canoe or kayak or as they drive through the valley. Nationally known for their scenic and aesthetic beauty, the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers offer a wide variety of visual experiences. Scenic views from the river include adjacent landscape features such as pine barren forests, wild rice waving in the breeze, the spectacular basalt outcroppings of the Dalles, and the ochre of sandstone bluffs.