Reposted from The President's Angle column in our March Newsletter
Shortly after moving to the Twin Cities some 30 years ago, my wife and I crossed the Kinnickinnic River at the Highway 35 bridge just north of River Falls. “I’ve heard of this river," I said, “It’s one of the most famous trout streams in the country.” A few weeks later, she gave me a fly rod for my birthday, and her life hasn’t been the same since. In those days, I spent most of my time on the Upper Kinni, where the current flows deep and smooth. I could get onto the water within 5 minutes of parking my car—an important consideration given my young family and a full-time job.
The Kinni above Powell Dam on March 20th
Fish rose willingly to hatches of Caddis, Blue-wing Olives and Sulfurs, and sometimes they even took my fly. Recently, with more time on my hands, I’ve been hiking down into the gorge to fish the riffles and pools of the lower river. No road crosses the river for seven miles, and humans share the corridor with Osprey, Eagles, Fishers and even Black Bears. A river like this within an hour’s drive of 3 million people is nothing short of a miracle, and one of the reasons I boast that the Twin Cities is the best big metro area in the country for trout anglers.
In the next 12 months, we can make this amazing river even better. Two dams were built in River Falls in the early 1900s. The impoundments created by these dams raise summer water temperatures on the lower river as much as 5 degrees. Fish are unable to migrate between the lower and upper rivers. Since a severe rain event in June 2020 damaged the Powell Dam, silt built up over the past hundred years has been flowing into the lower river, threatening to smother the cobble stream bed, an important habitat for spawning and aquatic insects. In 2018, the City of River Falls voted to remove the dams and restore the river. Early this month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission accepted the city’s request to cancel the power generation license for the Powell Falls Dam, clearing the way to remove the dam and begin restoring the streambed next winter.
After 100 years, there is a lot of restoration work to do! Public funds will pay for approximately 2/3 of the restoration, including removal of all structures and basic soil stabilization. However, private donations will be needed to fully restore the river and create a mile of publicly accessible trout water in the bed of the former impoundment. That water, by the way, has the bones to be one of the sweetest stretches of the river. Lots of riffle/pool sequences, and some deep runs for the monsters to lurk. The South Branch, a brook trout stream, flows into the Kinni here. Rumors are swirling of enormous brook trout being caught in this stretch last summer by some bold pioneers who didn't wait around for the rest of us to discover it.
Twin Cities TU and our partners at the KIAP-TU-WISH chapter in Wisconsin are collaborating with a variety of organizations to raise funds, and we are asking for your help. Between now and May 20th, we plan to raise at least $15,000 in donations from our members to restore the Kinni. This will be matched by a $15,000 grant from our chapter account. The TCTU Board is deeply committed to this effort: Every single board member has pledged a contribution, and we have already raised over $5,000. We hope you will join us!
To donate, click here
To learn more about this project on the TCTU website, click here.