It’s hard to not mention the rather unusual weather we’ve been experiencing these past couple of weeks. That lingering stretch of mild weather with warmer than normal temperatures and the absence of any precipitation enabled our farmer friends to finish up harvest after a slow and somewhat late start. This was a nice contrast to the wet weeks earlier this fall.
Besides that mild weather giving many of us a chance to get Christmas lights up in light jackets and finish up a few other projects, it also kept a large gaggle of geese hanging around above the dam here in Granite for the past several weeks. Like the rest of us, they seemed to be enjoying the weather and even seemed to be lolly-gagging around the area, wasting time that they’ll need for flying south as the weather turns to winter. And turn to winter, it suddenly did this week.
That windy and chilly snowfall could have waited a few more days or weeks, or months. None of us would have minded. Sure, a white Christmas is nice and there are plenty of fun things to do outside in the snow but a lingering mild and sunny fall is never a bad thing.
I spent about 30 winters working outside on the railroad and always learned to appreciate coming inside to warm up. I always like working outside but the stinging cold and the biting winter wind always made it more of a scramble to get a job done and get back in our truck to warm up. That’s a routine that teaches you to do what you can to avoid the bitter cold. I like some winter activity like cross country skiing, although I haven’t done it for a few years, and I don’t even mind shoveling snow. I’d rather not have to do that, however.
Our balmy late November allowed an interesting project that’s been on the back burner for a while to finally get underway last week. The Minnesota DNR fisheries staff have planned to rearrange the run of rocks that formed a rapids in the river just downstream from the Hwy. 212 bridge. These boulders are the remnants of an old stone dam that was partially built, prior to 1900. There had been plans to build a grain mill on the east bank of the river near where Leroy Zimmerman’s bait shop has been. Although the partially built dam spanned the entire width of the river, it still wasn’t very high when for some reason construction on the dam was halted and plans for the mill were set aside. Evidence of this dam was lost to the town’s eyes when the Minnesota Falls dam was built three miles downstream in 1905, raising the water above the unfinished run of rocks. When the Minnesota Falls dam was removed in 2013, the remnants of the dam became visible again. Time and water had taken their toll on it all but the rocks formed a somewhat attractive rapids.
The DNR staff recognized that, with a bit of work and some more large boulders, this could be rearranged into a more fish-friendly river passage and at the same time make a safer passageway for canoes and kayaks as well as repair some scouring and erosion along the west bank of the river.
River elevation the past two years has been too high to permit any construction but with slowly dropping river flows, and nice weather, the DNR decided to move forward with the project and had a contractor and his large back-hoe in the river this past week, rearranging boulders. River flows were still higher than they would have liked but it was workable and things went well.
There are always many unknowns when doing work near or in a river and, unfortunately, that proved to be the case here, too. Scouring and riverbank erosion was more extensive than could be seen under the grouted rip rap, near the west end of the Hwy. 212 bridge. Unfortunately, this didn’t appear until the central passageway was already dug out of the middle of the river. With the backhoe on the east side of the project, moving it back over to the west embankment through the newly excavated passageway wouldn’t work until the river flows were lower.
The city crew was called in to help with some sandbags and gravel and later a few loads of boulders which stabilized the bank erosion and stopped the scouring.
Meanwhile, there are plans underway to release some additional water upstream at the Lac qui Parle dam and then hold back water for a few days. It’s hoped that will permit the big machine to get back into the deeper water and permanently rearrange boulders on the west bank. That isn’t expected to happen until next week sometime, weather permitting, of course. Meanwhile, we may see a small rise in the river and then a drop from the adjustments up at the Lac qui Parle dam.
I’m sure those geese are glad to be heading south but they are missing out on some interesting river activity.