The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 12, 2013

Seeing Minnesota by water via DNR trail system

PINE CITY, Minn. (AP) — Alligators. Seems like there should be alligators, the photographer said as we found the Snake River current that would take us eight miles downstream to Pine City with minimal paddling on our part.

The rain-swollen river, running more than 2 feet higher than average for late June, left the maples that shaded its banks standing in water. The resulting landscape resembled a Florida swamp — and meant we wouldn't venture ashore until we passed under the Interstate 35 bridge and reached the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources boat launch.

The DNR's state water trails program turned 50 this year. What started as a local effort on the Minnesota River has grown to 33 trails — including the Snake — covering 4,529 miles, the St. Cloud Times reports (http://on.sctimes.com/12EQ3H5 ).

"When people think of Minnesota and canoeing, they have a tendency to think of the Boundary Waters because it's this iconic, highly visited destination for a vacation that's typically between three and 14 days long," said Erik Wrede, the DNR's St. Paul-based water trails coordinator.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness attracts paddlers from around the world. But not everyone has that much time or money to spare.

"That's the beauty of the water trails system, is it's right in everybody's back yard. There's a state water trail within an hour of most people's homes in Minnesota."

Obvious choices for St. Cloud include the Mississippi and Sauk rivers. I wanted to explore something new within a two-hour drive. Something matched to rusty paddling skills. Something scenic. Slow moving. With an outfitter that provided shuttle service.

Sauk Rapids DNR staff extolled the beauty of remote campsites overlooking Class III and IV rapids on the Snake River, then recommended a segment of flat water that remains relatively undeveloped. Wrede, who routinely fields requests from trip planners, confirmed the choice would fit the bill.

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