Mississippi Headwaters restoration project scheduled

Featured photo: Rendering of of Mississippi River Headwaters at Itasca State Park, after the shoreline restoration project scheduled to happen fall 2020. Photo courtesy of MN Parks and Trails.

The Department of Natural Resources is planning a shoreline restoration project at the Mississippi Headwaters in Itasca State Park. According to a release, the project will address erosion, and will help restore the original river channel width and stabilize the stream bank at the headwaters site.

Work on the $35,000 project will begin in early October after the peak tourism season, and access will be restricted for a five-day period.

“Nearly a half-million people visit the headwaters of the Mississippi River every year,” said Aaron Wunrow, Itasca State Park manager. “Erosion at the site has occurred gradually over a long period of time due to heavy visitation rates.”

Heavy foot traffic has carried soil and other material from the shoreline into the river. Additionally, the dam below the surface has become ineffective, resulting in water flow that is undercutting the shoreline and widening the mouth of the river.

The restoration project will use boulders atop the original dam to create a properly shaped channel that will produce a natural flow to the water. This will help reduce bank erosion by directing water away from the shoreline to prevent scouring of the streambanks. The shoreline will be stabilized with a combination of boulders and natural vegetation that will grow and root quickly to provide erosion protection.

“The river downstream of the headwaters is still intact and shows no visible impacts from the erosion,” said Wunrow. “This project will use a natural design approach to ensure it remains protected into the future, maintaining the existing high water quality and healthy stream system.”

The appearance of the headwaters will not change dramatically from present. Visitors will notice a narrowing of the channel, the addition of boulders on the shoreline, including flat boulders that will provide safe access to the river, and added vegetation on the streambank.


Larissa Donovan is the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and has been, almost without interruption, since Election Day 2016. She covers events and issues in north central Minnesota, which include local government, crime, courts, education, environment and social issues. She studied communications at Bemidji State University and received her degree in 2018. Larissa, native to the great state of New York, grew up in Bemidji, and enjoys spending her spare time with her family and pet cat. She also loves Star Trek, punk rock music and the theater.


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