Ol’ Man River Just Keeps A-rollin’

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

“It was so frustrating, I could hear their clamoring but could not see them.” Thus was the comment by local LeSueur nature observer Jerry Geisler. He was referring to the cloudscraping tundra swans bugling overhead. How frustrating it is to hear their trumpeting “oo-ow-oo” but not see their white bodies against or in the lowering scudding clouds. On the same day as Jerry was blessed by the birds, October 9th, Jim Gilbert, well known naturalist from Waconia, was observing the wondrous spectacle passing northwest by northeast, anxious to drop down on the bays and inlets of the Mississippi River near Weaver Bottoms in Minnesota, and Alma, Wisconsin. From thence their tedious flight takes them to Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. All things being equal, the majestic birds will pass through Henderson/LeSueur area again in mid-March, settling down on pot-holes east and west of LeSueur, feeding on fallen corn in harvested fields, then off to Alaska and the arctic.

This week someone asked, “Where do ‘our’ local trumpeter swans spend the winter?” Sunday, November 17th, found a flock of eighteen in an open water swamp near Jordan,
Another flock featured sixteen a mile north of Belle Plaine just off MN Highway #169, again, feeding among the corn stubbles. As long as the snow isn’t too deep, this is where you’ll find them, along with huge flocks northeast on the Mississippi River within the city limits of Monticello, Swan Capital of Minnesota.

Speaking of water, we have plenty of it and it is ‘impaired,’ has been for a long time, and all locals know it and feel helpless about it. We were at the historic meeting in Mankato at the confluence of the Minnesota and Blue Earth Rivers almost thirty years ago when Governor Arne Carlson, along with Lt. Gov. JoAnn Benson, declared that the Minnesota River would be fishable and swimmable within ten years. Political, environmental, climatological events have occurred since that time which have changed the direction of river waters improvement. Progress goes forward one step and back three, especially since recent deluges experienced in Minnesota, the country, the world.

Do you recall the small educational step taken in Henderson perhaps fifteen years ago, when citizens painted gutter openings on streets with bright yellow, reminding folks that what is dropped on the street, doesn’t remain on the street, rather, proceeds to the river, then to the Mississippi, then to the Gulf of Mexico? As part of cleanup efforts, Hilltop School youngsters planted trees, collected debris from parks and alleys in Henderson, while Eileen Brandt and her squadron of volunteers inaugurated Henderson Pride Days, and have done so for years. That’s YOU and the next guy/gal.

Father Nature has thwarted progress, however, with copious forms of precipitation, sleet, snow, and rising river waters inundating Highways #93, #6, #19. For the past three autumns, the grand old Minnesota River has entered the fall and autumn seasons at record water levels…each contributing to floods, washouts and mudslides of spring/summer/autumn of 2019. A basic problem for Henderson and region becomes “too much runoff equaling an isolated community.” A group of citizens representing the Lower Minnesota River has been meeting regarding the flooding challenge monthly for numerous years at the Joseph R. Brown Center, as well as in cities up and down the Minnesota River Basin.

Thursday night of this week, November 21st, the 13th Minnesota River Congress will meet at the Kato Ballroom in Mankato at 7:00 p.m. (Yes, this group has been actively addressing problems for thirteen and more years!) They will focus on water storage in the Minnesota River Basin, and believe water storage is the best way forward to improve water quality and assist in flood control measures. Henderson will have local representation but, “Everyone who cares about the Minnesota River System and is willing to help bring about its improvement” is welcome!!! That’s a quote from Scott Sparlin, river enthusiast from New Ulm of many years’ experience.

Not so long ago, in the memory of many, the river valley flats between Blakeley and LeSueur were rich fertile farmlands, flooded just occasionally. Today, notice how little rich black soil stays above the water. The farmland immediately south of the Henderson levee is a grand example of water coming off the hills, down the ravines, hence into the river. Even the deer and turkeys have resorted to waterwings.

We would guestimate that in the past few years, flooding has touched the lives of every person in Henderson and outlying areas, be it the young or the elders, either by inconvenience or monetarily. Henderson citizenry has and is involved. There’s much work to be accomplished, the first being awareness of the seriousness of the challenge. What river inheritance are we leaving our youngsters?