Mother nature a bigger problem than farmers for Sauk canoeists

By Alison Dirr

Map of obstructions along the Sauk River

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Eight days after they departed from Lake Osakis, Scott Miller and Todd Foster reached their final destination having encountered far fewer fences than they had predicted.

Background on the trip.

“There was probably six that were across the river,” Foster said. “[The number] was significantly lower than we thought and most of those were right away in the first half mile, three quarters of a mile in the river.”

He added that they saw around a dozen fences that he believed had once crossed the river. These fences reached to the banks but did not block the waterway.

Adam Hjelm, education coordinator for the Sauk River Watershed District, was part of a SRWD group that canoed the upper Sauk in 2008. He estimated that they encountered about 30 fences between Lake Osakis and Melrose.

Hjelm and Foster noted a number of possible reasons for the disparity.

According to Hjelm, farmers often do not pasture their cattle around the river until later in the summer after other pastures have been depleted. As a result, he said, many farmers would not have put their fences across the river yet.

He also said that Foster and Miller may have passed right over some of the lower fences because of high water levels this year.

Foster also noted that an accident last year on the river may have prompted farmers and landowners to rethink their use of fences.

“Maybe because of that girl that got hurt last year farmers and landowners were talking amongst themselves and decided that, ‘Oh hey, this is not good if people get hurt and we’re going to be liable for the injuries,'” he said.

According to Foster, neither the SRWD or the Department of Natural Resources has reached out to landowners on an individual basis to address the fencing issue. If they were removed, he said, it was entirely the landowners’ prerogative.

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But fences are not the only concern to paddlers, he said. The DNR is responsible for removing fallen trees, which are especially noticeable in the upper Sauk.

“Certainly the second day, the second seven miles there was very little fences across but it would be very difficult for the average paddler to make it through because of all the snags and trees across the river,” he said.

Foster and Miller used GPS technology to catalog the barriers in the river and planned to relay their findings to the DNR. The travelers have not been in contact with the DNR since they returned from their trip.

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