From an article in the ECM Post Review on Aug. 7, 2013, by Derrick Knutson

‘Friends’ focus on enhancing a local asset

Well-established group still working to improve programming at Wild River State Park

Close to 30 years ago, Friends of Wild River State Park was a group of just three members.

Now, that organization totals around 200 with a board of directors that numbers 15.

The group works to enhance programming at the park and raise awareness of activities going on at Wild River.

One might think that a state park with such scenic beauty — miles of the St. Croix River run through the park and large tracts of native prairie, strewn with a myriad of wildflowers and other eye-catching plants, encompass much of the park’s acreage —  is a big attraction, but there are people, even in Chisago County, who have never visited the park.

“We branched out a few years ago to get the North Branch Honor Society kids to help, and they didn’t even know where it was, and it’s right down the street,” said Dennis Odin Johnson, a 20-plus year member of Friends of Wild River State Park.

Wild River became a state park in the early 1970s, which is relatively recent, as far as state parks are concerned.

Even though members of Friends of Wild River State Park note the park might not be as well known as other nearby parks, like Jay Cooke or Banning, it has a following that’s strong and growing. Gary Noren, one of the founding members of Wild River State Park, said there is an array of activities that attract visitors to the park from near and far.

In the spring, the park has its annual Seegwan event, which is the Ojibwa word for the celebration of spring, according to Noren.

Free activities are offered throughout the day, and the celebration has grown in size and scope over the past 29 years.

Another popular event at Wild River State Park is the annual candlelight ski, which is usually in January or February.

In years when there’s been a good snow pack, the event has drawn more than 1,500 visitors who traverse the miles of paths lit by luminaries.

A newer program at the park is the full moon paddle canoeing and kayaking excursions that take place in the evenings during full moons throughout the summer. Participants paddle 9 miles from the Sunrise Landing to the main park landing.


Focusing on youth

Johnson and Noren said a focus on partnering with local schools has sparked more interest in the park in the past two years.

Johnson said Friends of Wild River State Park was able to secure a grant recently that allows it to offer money to school districts to offset some of the cost of busing students to the park for field trips.

“Kacie is just fantastic at dreaming up programs for the kids,” Johnson said of the park’s interpretive naturalist, Kacie Carlson. “We’ve just got to get the kids to her.”

The park is also welcoming to Boy and Girl Scout troops, and the Friends of Wild River State Park members appreciate when the troops can volunteer at the park.

“We do a cleanup on the St. Croix in mid-July in cooperation with the St. Croix River Association,” Noren said. “Our friends group sponsored a cleanup from the Sunrise Landing down to the main park boat landing. That’s a good thing.”

Those who would like to become members of or donate to Friends of Wild River State Park can call 651-583-2125 or visit

Donations to the group go toward enhancing programming at the park, protecting its ecology, augmenting work for park staff through recommendations for activities and improvements, and increasing the local interest and utilization of park facilities.