Gathered along the Cedar River this morning north of Osage, officials from Iowa and Minnesota celebrated the official designation of 32 miles of water trail through Mitchell County.
With the designation by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Cedar River now has 57 consecutive river miles managed as a “state water trail,” with 25 miles starting in Mower County on the Minnesota side. The Minnesota portion starts east of Lansing at Mower County Road 2, flows through Austin and ends west of Lyle at the Iowa border on Stateline Road.
Described by the Iowa DNR as “one of the state’s most beautiful waterways,” the Cedar River’s water trail miles almost all are within Mitchell County except for the last mile or so in Floyd County, Iowa, where it ends at Seter’s Landing.
Cedar River Watershed District outreach coordinator Tim Ruzek and Joel Wagar, a Minnesota DNR area parks and trails supervisor, attended Thursday’s ceremony at Bennett Access, located on the Cedar between the towns of Mitchell and Osage.
Ruzek and Wagar have worked in recent years with the Iowa DNR and Mitchell County Conservation Board on ways to collaborate to improve water recreation on the Cedar on both sides of the border.
CRWD and the MN DNR have projects in the works for this year and 2024 to enhance access on the Cedar in Minnesota.
Iowa DNR director Kayla Lyon spoke at Thursday’s ceremony and acknowledged the efforts by CRWD, Mitchell Conservation Board and both states’ DNR agencies because “rivers don’t have borders.” Lyon then joined a few dozen people in launching canoes and kayaks on the Cedar for a guided float down the river.
Within Mitchell County, numerous public parks, trails, wildlife areas and river-access points are along the Cedar River. Access points are located every 1.5 to 2 hours of paddling on the river, with six main sections comprising the water trail.
Iowa’s “water trails” are recreational routes on rivers and lakes that provide a unique experience for paddlers, according to the Iowa DNR. With the designation, Iowa DNR has partnered with Mitchell County Conservation to create a water trails’ master plan for the Cedar River through Mitchell County. The master plan provides a future vision for river recreation and identifies improvements to river access, parking, safety and more.
Starting in southern Dodge County near the city of Hayfield, Minn., the Cedar River flows 329 miles until draining into the Iowa River in southeastern Iowa, where the water then flows into the Mississippi River.
In 2011, the Minnesota Legislature approved a request led by the Cedar River Watershed District to designate the Cedar as a state water trail. Web resources and mapping of the Cedar River State Water Trail then came out in spring 2012.
Minnesota’s Cedar River State Water Trail map also always has highlighted the Otranto, Iowa, public access about 4.5 river miles from the Minnesota-Iowa border. At Otranto, the Iowa DNR and Mitchell County Conservation took out a low-head dam by building a flow-through, rock-arch rapids in recent years.
Minnesota DNR’s mussel biologists also have used mussels from the Cedar River in Iowa for its ongoing program since 2016 to restore native mussel populations in the Minnesota section of the Cedar from Austin’s south side to the Iowa border.
Within Mitchell County, the Cedar meanders southeasterly through a landscape of ancient limestone, with low bluffs that are much decayed, contributing to the naturally rip-rapped shorelines of broken limestone, the Iowa DNR’s water trail map says. Groundwater discharge from bedrock aquifers contributes significant flow to the river.
Some valley reaches are narrow and, in these stretches, paddlers will find bedrock cliffs rising on either bank, often shrouded by trees and with colorful “fairy lands” of ferns and mosses festooning the cliff faces.
To view the new Iowa water trail map for the Cedar and get other information, go online to: www.iowadnr.gov/paddling