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Group explores State Water Trail designation for Roseau River

The sun sets along the Roseau River northwest of Roseau, Minn., in October 2016. The Roseau River Watershed District, along with a diverse group of stakeholders, is working on a plan to get the river designated as a Minnesota State Water Trail. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)1 / 2
Tracy Halstensgard, Roseau River Watershed District administrator2 / 2

The ideas are just starting to flow, and planning is in the very early stages, but the Roseau River Watershed District and several stakeholders have launched an effort to get the Roseau River in northwest Minnesota designated as a State Water Trail.

A Red River tributary, the Roseau River flows 214 miles north and west from its source in Beltrami Island State Forest to the Red River east of Letellier, Man.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, MInnesota State Water Trails are stretches of rivers or lakes mapped and managed specifically for canoeing, kayaking, boating, camping and other water-based recreation.

Minnesota has 35 State Water Trails, including the Red River of the North State Water Trail and the Red Lake River State Water Trail in far northwest Minnesota.

Designation as a State Water Trail would open the door to support and direction—though not necessarily funding—from DNR staff for improving access and other amenities along the river, said Tracy Halstensgard, administrator of the Roseau River Watershed District.

The designation requires legislative approval, she said.

"It's amazing how many people either canoe or kayak or use the river, but only in a very limited capacity," Halstensgard said. "They go out in the 1- or 2-mile stretch of river they know, and that's all they know.

"What we hope to accomplish by this is getting people the knowledge of additional accesses, river conditions and hazards they may encounter so people feel more confident in stepping outside of that comfort zone and utilizing more reaches of the river."

According to Halstensgard, the idea for a State Water Trail on the Roseau River came from conversations with local residents and river users such as the new Roseau Outdoor Adventures and Recreation Group about the need for more and better recreational amenities along the river.

HDR Engineering, a Thief River Falls firm, has offered to do some community outreach work, Halstensgard says, and will be providing funds to offset costs of a new dock and a launch for canoes and kayaks in the Roseau City Park.

"It just kind of clicked like, how cool would it be to do a kayak cradle or launch at the Roseau City Park?" Halstensgard said. "And then build on that as a way to eventually get the Roseau River designated as a State Water Trail."

Designation also would assist users in accessing public lands along the river, ranging from Hayes Lake State Park on southern reaches of the river to Roseau River Wildlife Management Area on the Manitoba border.

"One of the goals of having this water trail is to connect that public land and provide that connectivity to primitive campsites and different recreational opportunities we have to offer," Halstensgard said.

In early January, the watershed district received a $5,000 grant from the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, which the district will match, to offset planning and outreach costs, Halstensgard said. Organizers then assembled a stakeholder group of local, regional and state entities from a variety of backgrounds to begin the planning process.

The group had its first meeting Feb. 1, and interest has been widespread, Halstensgard said.

"It's just a great, diverse group getting behind this whole idea," she said. "What we're going to do is start with what we have and map the current accesses and then make our wish list of what we want to do. Our goal is in 18 months to two years to complete the plan and then start searching for funding to implement different parts of the plan."

In the meantime, the stakeholder group has mailed a survey to landowners along the river to get their views on the water trail, and maps of known amenities and conditions along the river are being developed for users to access, Halstensgard said.

"We don't want to just wait and wait to put information out there while we're trying to get to be a state (designated) trail," she said.

The ultimate "pie in the sky" goal is an international water trail all the way from the source of the river to the mouth, Halstensgard said.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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