The Kinnickinnic River, called the Kinni by those who know and love it, flows through gently rolling hills and farmlands of St. Croix County and the City of River Falls where two dams block the river’s flow. Once through the city the Kinni passes through a protected pristine river valley to its confluence with the mighty St. Croix River. A relative short river, only 22 miles, the Kinni is a nationally recognized Class 1 trout stream home to native brook trout and German brown trout. It’s a spring fed stream that maintains amazing cold water in the region above River Falls.
Like most communities, River Falls abused the Kinni more than nurturing it. That is proven today by the rivers designation as an Outstanding Resource Water by the Wisconsin DNR, except for the portion of the Kinni flowing in River Falls. Nationally, dams have been reevaluated and many that were no longer usable or needed were pulled to let rivers flow. The dams on the Kinni were included in that great debate and a removal plan for those dams has been drawn up.
I grew up on a farm 9 miles south of River Falls where I went to school as a kid. I learned to trout fish on the Rush River and later fished the Kinni. Although the trout in the Kinni are smaller than in the Rush, they are more numerous. Talking to older Kinni anglers who fished the stream in the 1950s I heard stories of trout up to 7 pounds taken, but today you would struggle to take any fish over 16” from the upper watershed.
Last week I returned to a spot in the Kinni right n River Falls where I fished as a city resident from 1982 through the 90s. I was excited to get in the water and relive memories where I had a little known spot right in town. As I drove by the river I spotted a massive construction project close enough to river where even an old man like me could throw a baseball from and land in the water. The land was gutted by truckloads of sand and piles of exposed black dirt. Only a bare minimum of barrier was in place along the construction projects boundaries to protect the stream. A hard rain would have blown through that barrier dumping massive amounts of silt into the stream. But that epitaph was already fulfilled by the dirty work of the unneeded dams that have been doing it for years.
Walking to my “secret spot” I found a blacktopped city trail as wide as a road closer to the stream than the construction site. I also found where highway construction had been done and heavy equipment had been driven right along the stream. There I stepped into a hole left behind and twisted an ankle. Once in the stream I immediately noticed the streambed silted in and the deep hole that held trout was now filled with sand. The very same sand bank, looking as if made by trail construction that had filled the stream, was right in front of me just waiting for the next rain to add more silt. That silt, common in the rivers city limits, a result of similar construction projects, would prevent any chance of trout spawning. Needless to say, no trout were caught and none were seen surfacing unlike past trips. Although the city of River Falls claims the river as a resource to draw in people and business, even to the point of calling River Falls “The Home of Kinni” on its website, they still do little or nothing to protect the stream from damage, which I found without even searching.
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at email@example.com