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Minnesota Land Trust, a nonprofit 501(c)(3)

 2356 University Avenue West, Suite 240

Saint Paul, MN 55114

Phone: 651-647-9590

1-877-MLT-LAND

Email: mnland@mnland.org

 

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Located on the Green Line, across the street from Raymond Station. On bus routes 16, 21, 63 and 67. Nice Ride location across the street, available seasonally. Parking available on the south side of the building and on the street (metered).

 

 

 

 
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Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment

St. Louis River Estuary: Radio Tower Bay and Wild Rice Restoration

The St. Louis River estuary is a unique place where water from the St. Louis River mixes with the water from Lake Superior. This mixing produces an incredible amount of biological productivity, and numerous species of fish, birds, and other wildlife depend on the estuary for their survival.

Humans also depend on this beautiful place to support our local economy, our culture, and our physical survival. Decades of ecological degradation have negatively impacted the health of this ecosystem, but efforts are underway to restore the estuary, improving the quality of life for all of us who call this place home and contributing to the sustainability of the human and non-human communities that depend on the estuary for their survival.

 

Aerial view of the estuary. Duluth Harbor is to the right.

What is the St. Louis River estuary, and why do we care?

The St. Louis River is the largest U.S. tributary emptying into Lake Superior. Where the river meets the lake, it becomes a 12,000 acre freshwater estuary, a place where the water from the lake mixes with the water from the river. It is the largest wetland on Lake Superior and the most important source of biological productivity for the western half of Lake Superior.

The estuary supports the life cycles of waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds. It is an important resting and feeding spot on spring and autumn migration routes. Throughout the year, it provides wild rice, aquatic prey, and other food for birds and other wetland animals. It also provides a place for birds to build nests and fledge their offspring.

Many species of fish also depend on the St. Louis River estuary to sustain their life cycles. It provides spawning grounds for sturgeon, muskie, walleye, and 50 other species. The mosaic of submerged and emergent wetlands along the edges of the estuary provides a safe place for young fish to hide from predators.

Humans also depend on the estuary. The nation’s busiest fresh water port is located here, and 250,000 residents live, work and play on its shores. Each year, 3.5 million tourists come to visit the area. Our local economy, our culture, and our ecological sustainability all depend on the health of the St. Louis River Estuary.

 

Restoring the estuary at Radio Tower Bay

One of the areas where the Land Trust is working is the site known as Radio Tower Bay. From the late 1800The bay floor is covered with 4 - 8 feet of sawmill debris.'s through the early 1900's, Radio Tower Bay was the site of an historic sawmilling operation constructed on pilings over the water.  Much of the sawdust and slabwood from the milling operation ended up on the bottom of the bay, greatly reducing the quality of underwater habitat for fish and making the bay nearly useless for recreational value.

The Land Trust will restore this 40-acre bay by removing the derelict pilings and four to eight feet of sawmill debris from the bottom.  This project provides jobs, improves the fishing industry, provides recreational access, and ultimately, cleans the water. And all this is done in concert with a working, productive harbor.

Winter 2012 piling removal

On Wednesday, February 15, crews from Marine Tech were finally able to begin the process of extracting over 200 derelict wooden pilings that cross the bay.

These pilings consist of spruce and tamarac logs from trees that took root in the late 1700's to early 1800's.  They were driven into the bay in the late 1800's where they supported a railroad trestle, but the rail line was abandoned a mere five years later. The pilings have remained in place for over 100 years.

The removal process requires heavy equipment -- in this case a relatively large excavator which has been driven over the frozen bay.  The ice is cleared from around the pilings using the excavator's bucket.  Then, a  hydraulic gripper is attached to the excavator and the pulling process begins.

Using vibration and upward pull, the 35-40 foot long pilings are extracted one at a time.

Re-using the pilings

The pilings are remarkably intact, having been buried in mud for over 100 years.  While the quality of the timber used in these pilings is not furnitue-grade, we are evaluating their use for an observation platform and related boardwalk which may be constructed at a later date.

 

Wild Rice Restoration

Wild rice was harvested in the lower St. Louis River for generations. Sadly, during the last century, unregulated chemical dumping, untreated sewage releases and other physical disturbances finally overwhelmed the natural ecosystem and the environmentally sensitve wild rice beds all be disappeared.

However, recent efforts have improved the water quality of the St. Louis River, and a collaborative effort with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Fond du Lac Band, the 1845 Treaty Authority and the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife commission has resulted in an ambitious plan to restore wild rice beds throughout the estuary.

The Minnesota Land Trust has secured funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, with matching funds provided by the Minnestoa DNR from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, to begin the first phase of this effort. The Land Trust and the Fond du Lac Band will establish at least 150 acres of wild rice over the next two years.

Restoration of wild rice beds is beneficial to wildlife as well as humans, as they provide valuable cover, food and loafing sites for a number of species. Wood Duck, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Canvasback, and other migrant waterfowl are dependent on wild rice beds. Trumpeter Swan and black terns use them for nesting and brood rearing habitat. Other species such as small fish, frogs and other aquatic prey for Common Loon, Great Blue Heron and wood turtles make their home in wild rice beds.