I awoke to another overcast morning with a hint of rain in the western skies at 7:00 a.m. After packing up, I walked into Solon Springs, which was immediately adjacent to the park on the north side. Within five minutes, I was standing in front of the city hall just across the street from the local grocery store. A phone call home was made to Beth to update her on my progress and generally health. After hanging up, I discovered a small bakery across the street from the public phone and stopped in to obtain a second breakfast- a large warm cinnamon bun for 55 cents. While waiting for my order, I asked the baker and another patron drinking coffee at a nearby table if they knew of the accident on Hwy 53 last night at midnight. To my surprise, they offered no gossip but continued to puzzle over the incident as I walked out of the store.
On my return to my campsite, I found a crew of men installing a temporary bright orange fencing around the amphitheater ground extending up to my campsite. They were preparing the site for a Duluth Symphony concert that was planned that evening. Had I delayed my arrival to the county park by a day, I probably would not have been able to find an open campsite. Apparently, the concerts are quite popular and draw crowds from throughout northwestern Wisconsin.
I transferred my packs back down to the park's beach, packed the canoe and was on Upper Lake St. Croix by 10 a.m. after spending an hour updating my journal. Light rain soon began to fall as I headed down the calm, clear waters. The southern two-thirds of the lake was less developed than the northern portion. Submersed aquatic vegetation was common throughout the shoreline area and extended out a few hundred feet into the lake in many reaches.
The lake narrows abruptly to a small stream forming the start of the St. Croix River. A beautiful wetland community spanned the mile-wide valley floor. White and yellow water lilies were almost in full bloom. Yellow iris were common and in the final stages of their floral display. Blue irises were also present but much harder to find. Water clarity exceeded 5 feet and diverse submersed aquatic vegetation beds covered the relatively deep outlet channel. In rare vegetation-free pockets, fingernail clamshells coated the bottom. The current was slight and my canoe was easily pushed back upstream by the light southeasterly breeze when I sat idle gazing into the depths of the St. Croix's clear waters. A prominent and active eagle's nest adorned the top of a large white pine at the fringe of the wetland on the west side, a few miles below the lake's outlet.
Trumpeter swan mates were observed feeding near an emergent vegetation bed along the edge of the river. A loon angrily screamed at me as I apparently approached too close to its nesting site in a backwater area just east of a commercial cranberry bog a few miles above Gordon, Wisconsin. The loon's shrill cry quickly received the attention of its mate and every other creature, both human and wild, within a mile radius. I felt embarrassed for my intrusion and swiftly exited the area to avoid further disturbance of their nesting sanctuary.
The river's current picked up slightly at a narrow constriction just above Gordon. Within a quarter mile the Eau Claire River entered from the southeast and easily doubled or tripled the St Croix's flow. The Eau Claire was true to its name as the incoming waters were clear and supported diverse beds of submersed aquatic vegetation at its confluence. Fingernail claim shells seemed to be even more abundant on the surficial sediments of the Eau Claire than that observed upstream in the St. Croix.
The old Highway 53 bridge at Gordon sits very low on the water and I had to lie flat in the canoe to pass under its girders. Based on the high-water marking on the bridge abutment (about 2 ft higher), I would have had to portage around this obstruction during periods of higher flow.
Two more pairs of trumpeter swans were feeding in the inlet to St. Croix Flowage just downstream from Gordon. Douglas County created the flowage during the 1930s as part of a WPA project. Its shoreline is almost entirely in public ownership and hence free of development. I was very impressed by its clear water and diverse beds of submergent and emergent vegetation. Eagles, ospreys, ducks, terns, swans, rails and herons were just some of the birds I sighted in my relatively brief passage. The flowage contains large wooded islands and small glacial drift rock mounds, some barely protruding the water surface at the western end the flowage. I landed at the Gordon Dam campground at 4 p.m. No attendants were present and none showed up to collect my six-dollar camping fee. I got tired of waiting and finally went to bed at 8:30 still weary from yesterday's long portage.
The Flowage created by the Gordon Dam was once a natural dam referred by the Indians as "Namekawgon" or "sturgeon dam" and was near the site on an Indian village (Joseph N. Nicollet, August 8, 1837 from Bray 1970 and Schoolcraft 1855). The natural stone blockage formed an extensive widespread likely similar to the present wetland community below the outlet of Upper Lake St. Croix.
At 12:30 p.m., I woke to grunting sounds at the rear of my tent. Apparently some animal was trying to make a back door to my new single door Eureka backpack tent. I gave a loud low grunting sound also and heard the intruder scurry away. A few moments later it was back. I fumbled for my flashlight and shined it out the rear window to identify the bold unwanted visitor. A large shinny-eyed raccoon stared up at me from a few feet away while its three young offspring glanced cautiously out from behind the trunk of a nearby silver maple tree. Mama raccoon was not at all intimidated by my display and just gazed at the light and grunted while her siblings watched and prepared for the confrontation. I quickly exited the tent and yelled at her to "Git" in sharp low voice. This frightened the little raccoons and they quick scrambled up the tree. However, mama was not impressed and boldly stood her ground. I approached her with additional vocal warnings and she reluctantly retreated and meandered off to the nearby underbrush. The cowardly siblings eventually came down and met up with mom and hurried off to a nearby campsite hoping to find tidbits and campers who were heavier sleepers.
Below Upper Lake St. Croix
Swans stand guard at entry to Gordon Flowage