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Mississippi River recreation ramps up thanks to task force

Settler's Island, a natural space in the Mississippi River, has been eyed by the City Council for recreation opportunities. The Friends of the Mississippi River recently completed a management plan for the island. Courtesy of the city of Cottage Grove

COTTAGE GROVE — From Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River stretches 2,350 miles long, and Cottage Grove claims 72 miles its coastline.

For several years, the city of Cottage Grove has had a goal of increasing residents' access to the Mississippi River for its natural areas primed for fishing, boating, canoeing,

birdwatching and hiking. Now that the Mississippi River Access Task Force has launched, there are concrete steps being taken toward that goal.

Parks Director Zac Dockter, who also serves as the staff liaison for the task force, said the group is moving along in its goal. The group is working on programming, signage and history.

"It's about getting people down to the river in whatever way we can," he said.

Signage is a main project, including historical signs explaining the namesakes for Hazen P. Mooer's Park and Joseph LaBathe Settler's Island, Dockter said. Mooer and LaBathe were settlers of the Grey Cloud Island area.

They're working on trial and canoe maps for the river, and posting interpretive canoe trails identifying points of interest.

The task force has marked seven sites so far:

• Hazen P. Mooer's Park

• Grey Cloud Dunes Minnesota Scientific and Natural Area

• Grey Cloud Bridge

• Dakotah Burial Mounds

• Historic Lime Kiln

• Joseph LaBathe Settler's Island

• Grey Cloud Slough canoe light

Settler's Island

City Council and the Parks Department also are eyeing the mysterious, shifting landmass in the Mississippi River near Cottage Grove, known as Joseph LaBathe Settler's Island.

The island is very susceptible to erosion, and didn't even exist 100 years ago until the Hastings dam was built. The city acquired the 3-acre island in 2015.

The St. Paul-based Friends of the Mississippi River completed a natural resources management plan earlier this year. The report recommended restoration of native species, removal of invasive species, implementing erosion control and some opportunities for recreation.

According to the report, hardly any native species remain on the island; most vegetation consists of invasive species including buckthorn.

"Restoration is a positive thing, so we're hoping to get some phases of restoration," Dockter said.

The island is also ecologically significant for wildlife, including an active beaver lodge on the east side of the island.

The plan allows for a recreation area of picnic tables and the like, while keeping the human footprint on the island small in order to be respectful of the vulnerable habitats there.

City Council accepted the report at the June 20 meeting, though no official direction or decisions have been approved regarding the island. Dockter said the report will be useful for grant applications and securing other funding.

The Friends of the Mississippi River estimated that restoration over the next four years would cost around $32,000.

Programming the river

Two events to access the river and experience Grey Cloud Island are planned for the summer.

The first, Discover Grey Cloud Island, will be held July 17.

Discover Grey Cloud Island will be a family-friendly event, with games, crafts and more for children, including milk carton boat races.

East Metro Water Resources will be on hand to provide information about the backwaters of the Mississippi, and the Mississippi River Access Task Force will have an information booth for anyone with questions.

The second event — Canoe the Backwaters — will be held Aug. 18. Up to 40 people can canoe that day, with 20 spaces available in the morning and afternoon sessions. There will be history and a tour of the island, along with a canoe course of the river. There will also be an information booth and refreshments.

Both events are at Hazen P. Mooers Park.

Dockter said in the future they're looking for more recreation opportunities for the river such as pond dipping or more canoe outings.

If you go:

What: Discover Grey Cloud Island

When: 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, July 17

Where: Hazen P. Mooers Park, 10911 Grey Cloud Island Trail

Registration: No registration needed, and the event is free.

What: Canoe the Back Waters

When: 9:30 to 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug.18

Where: Hazen P. Mooers Park, 10911 Grey Cloud Island Trail

Registration: Up to 20 people per session. Register at https://apm.activecommunities.com/cottagegrovemn

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