Rice Creek: urban oasis

Rice Creek running north of the Twin Cities and flowing into the Mississippi beyond Locke Lake had been on our to-do list for a long time. The modest waterway arises in the Centerville Lakes marshes, skirts the terminal moraine of the Arden Hills, and takes a meandering course across the Anoka Sandplain, before spilling into the river.

Ramsey County and Anoka County have set up the Rice Creek Water Trail in the Rice Creek Watershed District with an informative website: <http://www.ricecreek.org&gt; to help paddlers plan their trip. We put in at Peltier Lake below the dam and took a little passage leading to George Watch Lake into the chain of lakes–which might plausibly be labeled “marshes”– to begin our paddle.

It was a humid, sultry morning. The sky hung heavy with clouds that promised stormy weather later on. But no matter! A lake is a good place to be on a hot June day. Within minutes we were greeted by the rich rattle of marsh wrens, brown, secretive birds who, like all wrens, have a big voice in a tiny body. We never saw a one, but we heard hundreds as we paddled through .

Soon we came upon our first great blue heron, fishing on the margins of cattails. Startled by the quiet canoes, it arose and flapped off with an loud squawk. We would encounter many more– as well as a pair of Trumpeter Swans, no doubt nesting.

The first shallow lakes were plagued by curley leaf pondweed, which formed a thick mat. It was an irritant, but more than offset by the numerous marsh birds calling all around. Mallards, red-winged blackbirds, egrets, black terns, song sparrows. I vowed that on our next trip, I’d remember to bring my binoculars– surely rails can be found if one is quiet!IMG_3175

On Rice Lake, the pondweed disappeared, and we were delighted to spy yellow-headed blackbirds, a bird becoming uncommon in eastern Minnesota. Look for a colony on the eastern horn of the southern shore of the lake.

After Baldwin Lake, the creek narrows dramatically and winds a sinuous path toward the river. It becomes shady and intimate as it borders suburban yards. Land owners– thank you for your buffer strips that protect this little stream! And ahem! Some of you still need to get on board!

We ended up at a “take out” spot just east of Lexington Avenue– the parking lot marked on the map is non-existent. Our millenial son suggested calling an Uber for a ride back to the put-in spot, so we did not have to shuttle cars, for the first time ever. He also suggested a stop at Hammerheart Brewing in Lino Lakes, to celebrate a fine afternoon.

We hope to complete our survey of this tiny slice of heaven later this summer. How lovely to know that on the edge of the largest urban area in the Upper Midwest, there is still room for marsh wrens.

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