The Kinnickinnic River (the “Kinni”) flows 22 miles through a watershed of 96,000 square acres. Three major areas comprise the Kinni: the headwaters, the Upper Kinni, and the Lower Kinni canyon. The hydropower dam in the City of River Falls provides the physical separation between the Upper and Lower Kinni River areas. The Upper Kinni flows north and east of River Falls; the Lower Kinni begins below the city’s hydropower dam and flows southwest through the “Kinni canyon” into the St. Croix River. Springs, streams, and tributaries feed into the Kinnickinnic River along its entire length.
The KRLT’s protected properties within the Kinnickinnic River’s watershed include the headwaters area north of Highway I-94, the mainstem of the Kinni, the tributary stream Kelly Creek, springs, wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat, native plant communities, rare and endangered species, bluffs, coulees, family farms, and lands adjacent to other protected lands such as those owned by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Let’s go for a tour of the Kinni.
The Headwaters of the Kinnickinnic River
By the end of 2004, over 300 acres in the headwaters area were protected through conservation easements and purchases from 3 families and a college. Combined with an additional 100 acres owned by the Wisconsin DNR, this contiguous block of more than 400 acres of protected properties provides habitat to over 40 species of birds including the rare trumpeter swan, protects the mainstem of the Kinni and important wetlands, seeps, and springs.
The KRLT was able to accomplish this protection through partnerships and funding through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, the federal government’s North American Wetland Conservation Act, Pheasants Forever, willing landowners, and the generosity of private donors and KRLT members.
Further protection efforts include the main stem of the Kinni, the South Branch tributary, springs, wetlands, native plants, and upland habitat and farmland.
The headwaters area can be explored through KRLT field trips both in winter and in summer and is open for hunting and hiking.
The Upper Kinni River
The Kinnickinnic River, in the “Upper Kinni” watershed area, is characterized by slower and colder water. Brown trout is most often found in the Upper Kinni area and up to 8,000 trout per mile have been found, over 3 times the DNR’s rating of “excellent”. Numerous springs feed the Kinnickinnic River, and a number of tributaries and creeks play a major role in the river’s flow. Parker Creek, Nye Creek, Ted Creek, and Kelly Creek are all found in the Upper Kinni watershed.
Kelly Creek is a cold, clean feeder stream with wild native Brook Trout, important spawning areas, wetlands, and many springs. It rises from springs under a picturesque limestone outcropping (topped by an ancient bur oak) pumping out more than 700,000 gallons per day that sustains the cool temperatures needed for naturally reproducing Brown and Brook trout.
Historical records show the area was primarily prairie with pockets of brush and oak openings. Wetlands next to the stream were a combination of alder swamp or wet meadow. Continuously flowing cold water seepage is an important component of these wetlands. Along the ridge above the creek are scattered large bur oaks which indicate it was originally an oak savanna with prairie grasses and wildflowers. This area has now been restored to native prairie. The prairie area around the spring now provides wonderful bird and other wildlife habitat, as well as being a source of discovery on KRLT field trips.
The KRLT is proud to have been able to fully protect Kelly Creek, an important tributary feeding into the Kinni. Kelly Creek Preserve is now open to the public, and is the site of education programs for school children and the general public, and is featured in the KRLT annual field trips. A total of 73 acres in the Kelly Creek area was protected between 1998 and 2001 and involved members, donors, neighbors, a real estate agent, and a great deal of hard work by many people.
The “Swinging Gate” is a famous public access point, on Highway 65, known to many anglers and written about in fishing guidebooks. Originally belonging to Bill Lubich, countless people were able to fish this beautiful stretch of river, thanks to his open and generous hospitality.
Here the river flows slowly and one can even see fish make a dimpling rise.
In 1999, through the help of a very generous member/conservation buyer, KRLT was able to secure this property at auction and purchased 53 acres, including 2800 feet of riverbank. Later the KRLT sold the property to the Wisconsin DNR under an arrangement that keeps it in its natural, undeveloped state and open for public access.
The DNR planted a prairie that is alive with swaying native grasses and beautiful wildflowers. Parking is available and it is very convenient to get to the river bank. Grassy banks and a firm riverbed make wading and casting easy. It’s a place for people to enjoy the water, fishing, open lands, and perhaps catch a glimpse of a bald eagle sitting in a riverbank tree.
Below the hydro dams of River Falls, the Kinnickinnic River flows swiftly through a twisting limestone canyon formed millions of years ago and untouched by the glaciers of 12,000 years ago. The “Lower Kinni canyon” begins about a mile below the City of River Falls and continues approximately 10 miles to the St. Croix River. It is an outstanding scenic resource with high cliffs, shaded rapids, and numerous moss and fern clad rock outcroppings. Wildlife abounds including nesting bald eagles, herons, waterfowl, deer, and the rumored cougar.
Within the canyon, are the “Weeping Cliffs” where underground aquifers intersect the canyon walls. Water seeps year-round forming spectacular ice cliffs in winter. The constantly discharging cold groundwater creates a unique environment for water-loving plants including trees, mosses, and ferns. The rare boreal forest white pine and other plants are found on the north sides of the canyon, where cool, moist air sweeps across the rocks and land, creating a habitat and plant communities found much further north.
South-facing cliffs are hotter and drier and the site of rare “goat prairies” on its steep slopes. “Goat prairies” are so steep that typically only goats would be able to traverse them. They are unique habitats for rare native prairie plants.
By the end of 2006, the KRLT protected over 650 acres of Canyon lands and over four miles of river frontage.
These protected lands include a variety of oak savanna, original prairie, farmland, and white pine forest. Also protected are feeder streams and springs, scenic bluff lands, wooded coulees, rare and endangered plant species, beautiful stands of white pines, and plenty of open space and scenic vistas.
The “Rasmussen Preserve”, sold by the KRLT to the Wisconsin DNR and added to the Kinnickinnic State Park in October 2006, has about 1/3 mile of river frontage, wetlands, floodplain forest, bluffs, massive white pines, majestic oaks, coulees, springs, and rare plants. The river frontage includes the site of a historic old dam of the former Clifton Hollow settlement, whose outline can still be traced in the water.
Rocky Branch is a tributary that parallels the Kinni near Glen Park before entering the Kinni. It is a favorite fishing spot of many anglers with its stair-step pools and riffles.
The South Fork is a tributary feeding into the Kinni from the east and flows through the campus of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls before meeting up with the main stem near Glen Park.
In September 2007, the KRLT partnered with the USDA’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and the Wisconsin DNR’s Stewardship Fun, to purchase three conservation easements on the Lyle and Roberta Johnson farm. The 195-acre farm is located in the Townships of River Falls and Clifton. The conservation easements protect the prime agricultural soils, bluffs, woodland, goat prairies, and the Kinni river from development and will conserve the exceptional natural resources of this wonderful property. The Johnsons have farmed this land for over 50 years and raised a family who enjoyed fishing, hiking, and swimming while growing up. They are very pleased to know their land will never be subdivided and will remain a farm forever.
Jerry and Judy Edgar, the owners of a 100-year-old family farm sold their development rights to the KRLT in 2002. Grants from the USDA Farmland Protection Program, the Wisconsin DNR Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, and the River Protection Program paid for the development rights to this 280-acre farm. The Edgar family retains ownership of the farm and will continue farming. They have received numerous awards including the Pierce County soil and Water Conservation Farms awards. At the Wisconsin State Fair, the family accepted the Century Farm Designation for their farm.
Now protected from development are prime agricultural soils, a portion of the Lower Kinni canyon, a tributary stream, springs, river bluffs, coulees, rare and threatened plant species, and diverse animal and plant habitats. It is linked to other lands permanently protected with conservation easements for a continuous conservation corridor of over 4 river miles.
Open acres and rolling hills comprise the organic farm protected by Maureen Ash and Richard Purdy. They placed 195 acres in a conservation easement with the farmland to always remain organic. KRLT also purchased the development rights to the 253-acre farm of John and Jeanne Rohl. The Rohls retain ownership of the farm and continue to farm the land as their family has for the last 50 years. KRLT received a grant from the USDA Farmland Protection Program and private contributions to pay for the development rights. Protected are prime agricultural soils, intermittent streams, ponds, and wildlife habitats.
The Kinnickinnic River Land Trust continues to work with willing landowners all across the watershed of this incredibly beautiful river.
- Falco peregrinus anatum,American peregrine falcon*
- Lanius ludovicianus, loggerhead shrike***
- Podiceps grisegena, red-necked grebe
- Lampsilis higginsi, Higgin’s pearly eye mussel*
- Cyclonaias tuberculata, purple wartyback
- Fusconaia ebena, ebony shell
- Liatris punctata var. nebraskana, dotted blazing star
- Astragalus crassicarpus, prairie plum
- Scutellaria parvula var. parvula, small skullcap
- Catabrosa aquatica, brook grass
- Lespedeza lepstostachya, prairie bush clover**
- Anemone caroliniana, Carolina anemone
- Prenanthes aspera, rough rattlesnake-root
Wisconsin Threatened Species
- Cirsium hillii, prairie thistle***
- Besseya bullii, kitten tails
- Trillium nivale, snow trillium
- Phemeranthus rugospermum,*** fame-flower
* Federally endangered
* * Federally threatened
* * * Federally special concern