St. Croix River celebrates 50 years as 'scenic waterway'

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Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but one of its rivers is taking center stage this year as it celebrates a special anniversary. 

The St. Croix River attracts thousands of visitors every year, including fishermen, boaters and plenty of swimmers in the summer months, a gem of Minnesota outdoor life for people across the state. 

50 years ago in October then-President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act into law, an effort aimed at protecting and preserving more than 200 miles of the St. Croix and other rivers, including the nearby Namekagon. The legislation also created a national park along the rivers with 25,000 acres of donated land.

"The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was really a response to how we had manipulated rivers for a long time," said Julie Galonska, the superintendent of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. "Either because we needed them for industrial reasons, logging or we had a lot of dams being built."

A series of events commemorating the anniversary kicked off Thursday with a press conference featuring various congressmen and community leaders, the first in a months-long effort to engage locals with the historic waterway. Not that many locals, including Jeremy Lacasseur, need convincing.

At least three or four times a week he casts a line into the St. Croix near downtown Stillwater, Minn., though he says oftentimes he ends up catching much more than just fish.

"[The river offers] newer people to meet—tourists, etc—It's a lot of fun," he said. "It's peaceful. There's a lot of scenery."

Just like Lavasseur people have been on the river for thousands of years, with the earliest forms of tourism starting with crowds who would come from miles around to see enormous log jams that sometimes took months to break up. 

In recent years, the St. Croix has become better known for its cabins and endless forms of recreational activity, as well as its natural beauty and wildlife both in and out of the water. It's enough that Lavasseur says he'll keep coming back until the day he dies.

"I love this place so much," he said. "This river is pretty much the best place there is."