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Friday, April 10, 2009

Minnehaha Creek: Part 1

This is part 1 of a tale of urban & suburban exploration: a trip down Minnehaha Creek in Minneapolis that I originally chronicled in 2005 in the now defunk Whittier Globe.

A hot and muggy morning. Cool waters lapped around my ankles, running several inches higher than the dock below my feet. The dam to my left was releasing 250 cubic feet per second, well over the 150 threshold of “dangerous.” Gray skies threatened. But it was difficult to feel tense as I gazed ahead at the creek ambling through lush wetlands, cattails topped with bobbing redwing blackbirds, barnyard swallows, and lusty dragonflies zipping about. A snapping turtle eased his massive head below the surface, disappearing with the current as a kingfisher skimmed the waters.

I lowered the canoe gently into the waters and held it steady as my brother climbed into the front. I eased my way into the back seat and pushed off. There was no turning around now. Come hell or high water, we were in it for the long haul: Minnehaha Creek from Gray’s Bay to the Knollwood Mall—mere inches on my photocopied map, but eight miles by canoe, from the placid wetlands below the dam to the roller coaster rapids past Interstate 494, through tunnels with inches of clearance and around twisty turns sidling along the backyards of St. Louis park before pulling out by Knollwood.

Minnehaha runs approximately 24 miles, from Lake Minnetonka to the falls above the Mississippi, with numerous suburbs and neighborhoods in between. Surprisingly few people, even those living right by the creek, realize how stupendously easy it is to simply drop a canoe in the water, hop in, and cruise down stream across the open marshes, under the blasting freeways, through the intimate backyards—all the way to the Mighty Mississippi.

Our adventure began in Wayzata; the parking lot was nearly full and there were several other people putting in. My brother and I took it slowly, drifting down with infrequent, languid corrective dips of the paddle to maintain our lazy course. We had plenty of time and were well stocked with rations—besides, we were forewarned of the rumbling rapids ahead. My brother had a friend—an Olympic-caliber kayaker—who had scouted this terrain earlier in the week and come back reporting that “it can be done in a canoe. It can be done, but you’d better know how to swim. Count on getting wet."

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