Kinni delivers incredible float; river ride worth taking
Avid canoeists and trout fishermen already know what a great trip the Kinnickinnic River gives. Kinnickinnic River Land Trust (KRLT) Executive Director Jon Michels does all he can to spread the word, too.
"I run out of adjectives for this river," said Michels. "It's peaceful and such a community treasure."
Michels recently took this Journal reporter on a guided canoe tour some eight miles down the lower Kinni from the dam at Glen Park to Kinnickinnic State Park to show the river's natural beauty and many charms.
He's also leading a field trip at 10 a.m. Saturday called the Kinni Canyon Float. Anyone interested should call Michels at KRLT between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. this week: 425-5738.
The 22-mile-long Kinni stretches from Interstate 94 to the Kinnickinnic State Park where it joins with the St. Croix River. Michels says people can float the whole river but not without stopping to portage two dams. For non-seasoned canoeists that means carrying the boat.
"You really don't even have to paddle," said Michels. "The river does most of the work for you. There are a few places you have to maneuver around, but it's an easy float."
Michels has canoed all over Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada and is an experienced rapids rider.
No portage was necessary on this trip. The Kinni was up a few inches and trout darted in and out of rocks in the clear water.
The cool spring-fed river creates a perfect home for trout. Michels says the biggest one he's caught is 14-15 inches.
Trout share their home with many other critters.
A beaver's paddle-like tail smacked the river surface, prompting Michels to say they're not traditional dam-building beavers. They're bank-den beavers that make homes under the banks since the constantly flowing water would wash away dams.
Michels floats the lower Kinni many times a year and regularly sees turkey, muskrat, beaver, otter and deer. Once he even saw a bobcat.
The river also features many tree varieties. Tall white pines scattered along the banks make for a majestic look and share the landscape with big bur oaks, cottonwoods and basswoods.
Foliage shades many parts of the river and gives shelter from the summer sun, and 50-degree spring water makes cool air in many spots. Still, anyone going to on this trip should bring sunscreen, shorts, a hat and sunglasses.
Besides an occasional other canoeist and water flowing, birds make the only sounds along the lower Kinni. Many types live there including owls, crows and golden finches.
Michels said, "I'm no ornithologist though. I just know enough to be dangerous."
The Kinni offers one potential sight that many consider breathtaking - an American bald eagle plus an eagle's nest built among high branches of a white pine.
Luckily on this float tour, an eagle posed for pictures. To see an eagle on the Kinni a decade ago was rare, but conservation efforts have helped improve habitat.
Michels keeps an eye on this particular nest and says it once contained two baby eagles.
With a spotting tool, friends once saw a parent bringing an unusual meal of red fox for the babies. Young eagles are harder to spot because the birds don't develop a white head and tail until they're about three years old.
The Kinni measures between six and eight feet at its deepest point and about 70-90 feet at its widest.
The Department of Natural Resources recently finished a riverbank restoration project that helps maintain steady water flow. Canoeists only need paddles to steer.
Canyon bluffs jut from left and right during many parts of the float. Stone walls reach high overhead and constantly weep water. And if recreation seekers forget drinking water, there's even one spot to stop for a drink of cold natural spring water.
Michels says the weeping canyon walls turn icy in the winter and appear blue during spring.
A winter float? Yup! The constantly flowing 50-degree spring water keeps out ice except for when temperatures are bitterly cold.
"I've floated this river during every month of the year," said Michels.
He used a plastic canoe for floating the Kinni and says that material is best for recreation.
Other canoe materials include Kevlar for speed and straightness and aluminum. A new one costs around $500 and a used one maybe $100-$200.
Michels says he'd love to be a float guide and canoeist for a living but doubts he'd earn enough to support his wife and three children doing it.
In his first three months as KRLT's executive director he's floated state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, River Falls Mayor Richards - who was a good sport about getting soaked in the rain - and an outdoor-magazine reporter down the Kinni.
No overnight camping is allowed along the Kinni or in the state park where the lower-Kinni float trip ends, but anybody can go on the peaceful canoe ride.
If River Falls floaters don't own a canoe, they can rent one from Kinni Creek Lodge and Outfitters on North Main Street.