Lower St. Louis River Habitat Restoration

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2013 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Outdoor Heritage Fund
Recipient Type
State Government
Start Date
July 2012
End Date
June 2016
Activity Type
Counties Affected
St. Louis
St. Louis
Project Overview

Radio Tower Bay: 115,000 cubic yards of wood material was removed to increase water depth, provide greater habitat diversity, promote native aquatic vegetation and increase recreational access.Knowlton Creek: 6,500 linear feet of degraded stream was restored by reshaping and creating new stream channels; constructing instream structures; and native planting and seeding to stabilize the stream and minimize sediment into the Estuary.21st Ave W/Interstate Island: Restored 2 acres of critical nesting habitat for the Common Tern and Piping Plover.Wild Rice: Restored 133 acres of wild rice in the St. Louis River Estuary.

Project Details

Radio Tower BayHistoric mill waste (slabs, boards and wood fragments) were removed from the Bay to restore an ecologically functional sheltered bay with optimum diversity of depth. Non-OHF funds were applied to complete feasibility and design in order to optimize application of construction funds. The resulting sheltered bay provides critical coastal wetland habitat for many species of fish and wildlife that utilize the St. Louis River estuary. Wild rice was also established in the bay after construction as part of the separate Wild Rice Restoration Project.Prior to restoration activities, wood waste covered almost the entire open-water portion of the bay. Wood waste was also present under areas of emergent vegetation. Depth of wood waste ranged from 0.2 feet to 3.3 feet. The average water depth was approximately one foot. Although the bay was relatively shallow, submergent and emergent vegetation were only present along the perimeter of the bay. Shallow water depths also limited ecological function of the bay as well as its recreational value to anglers and other boaters.Approximately 115,000 cubic yards of wood waste and wood sediment mixes were removed from Radio Tower Bay. The material was pumped to a dewatering site on US Steel property and was beneficially reused to restore their Superfund site after remediation. The Project resulted in increasing the average water depth of the bay from one foot to 3.7 feet and increased the maximum depth from 2.3 feet to 7.4 feet. A 5.5-acre area with an average water depth of 7.5 feet and channel depth of 5.0 feet will act as a connection between the St. Louis River and the bay, which creates off-river, overwintering fish habitat and improves access for boaters. The bed of Radio Tower Bay is now composed of native silt, unconsolidated organic matter, and clay substrates that have been exposed by the removal of wood waste. Wild Rice was seeded in approximately 15 acres of Radio Tower Bay in 2015 and 2016. Previously seeding areas will be reseeded in 2017 if necessary.All objectives were met and all construction activities went as planned. The technique to grind up wood and sediment mixes and hydraulically pump them to a dewatering facility for drying was revolutionary. The resulting clean organic material was deemed highly desirable as a substrate to restore remediated areas on the US Steel Superfund Site. After removal of material, the dewatering facility will continue to function and will be used to dewater wood waste from Mud Lake (ML2018 OHF proposal), which will substantially reduce the cost of the project.Knowlton CreekThe Knowlton Creek Watershed Project restored and enhanced approximately 6,500 linear feet of cold-water stream habitat using Natural Channel Design techniques. Construction outcomes were successful in eliminating erosion and transport of sediment along all reaches restored. Brook trout migration was established or enhanced along 3,000 feet of the stream (the remaining length was too steep). The Project was completed after Spirit Mountain Recreation Area constructed water control structures at the base of their ski hill to transport excess runoff away from Knowlton Creek and directly to the estuary through the pipe used to transport water from the estuary for snow making. This was a revolutionary partnership and methodology. The Project was designed through a MNDNR/USACE partnership with no OHF funding. The restoration methodology applied was a geomorphologic approach appropriate for the hydrology following the Natural Channel Design methodology (Applied River Morphology, Rosgen, 1996).Construction of in-stream structures (boulder jam steps, boulder jam riffles, toe wood, pocket pools and log vanes with boulder hooks) will improve aquatic habitat diversity and stabilize the bed. Native upland grasses and forbes were planted as well as approximately 15,000 trees along the riparian corridor. During construction, MNDNR, Stantech, Veit/Cardno’s field staff worked together to compile construction observation reports and note deviations from the site plans. Overall, the project implementation partners were very effective at addressing project level circumstances. There were a number of design changes that resulted from conditions encountered in the field. Coordination with project partners such as the City of Duluth, Cloquet Pumping Station, Spirit Mountain, MNDOT, private landowners, as well as, resource professionals within the MNDNR, MPCA and USACE was key to the success of the project. In some instances, earlier coordination of the more critical elements of the project would have eliminated some of the additional implementation time needed to complete the restoration.21st Ave W/Interstate IslandThe scope of Interstate Island was to restore colonial waterbird nesting and young rearing habitat through the addition of sand and gravel, vegetation management, and management of the ring-billed population, thereby contributing to implementation of Actions 1.32 and 1.361 in the Recovery Plan for the Great Lakes Piping Plover. Reproductive success of Common Terns nesting on Interstate Island was degraded due to the low elevation of part of the island, vegetation encroachment, and competition for nesting space from ring-billed gulls.The Project was designed by MNDNR with no OHF funding. The contractor placed 730 linear feet of temporary silt fencing, 3,276 cubic yards of clean beach sand, 610 cubic yards of cobble rip-rap, 28 cubic yards of surface amendments (pebbles & gravel), and 620 linear feet of sediment control log. MN & WDNR staff and volunteers removed all fenced gull exclosures and string grids prior to construction. These were replaced in spring of 2016 as part of regular departmental Piping Plover/Common Tern monitoring and management efforts. Common Terns have been successfully using the enhanced habitat since the Project was completed.Wild Rice (Rask Bay)A total of 133 acres of wild rice was restored at several locations in the St. Louis River estuary in 2015 and 2016. Previously seeded location were reseeded in 2017 as needed. Additionally, WDNR and the MN Land Trust restored 83 acres of wild rice beds on the Wisconsin side of the estuary. National Fish & Wildlife Foundation applied $400K and no OHF funding was applied to restoration work on the Wisconsin side of the estuary. A total of 216 acres is in the process of being restored on both sides of the estuary as part of this cooperative project between WDNR and MNDNR. Yearly monitoring and reports are being completed to evaluate all previously seeded locations and determine additional sites for implementation in future years. Geese depredation has been an issue to the success of reseeding efforts and the Project partners have initiated an effort to address this problem beginning in 2017.

Legal Citation / Subdivision
ML 2012, Ch. 264, Art. 1, Sec. 2, Subd. 5(d)
Appropriation Language

$3,670,000 in the second year is to the commissioner of natural resources to restore habitat in the lower St. Louis River estuary. A list of proposed projects must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.

2013 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Other Funds Leveraged
Direct expenses
Administration costs
Number of full time equivalents funded
Measurable Outcome(s)

Restored 208 acres of habitat

Source of Additional Funds


Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
MN DNR Fisheries, Region 2
Street Address
5351 North Shore Drive
Zip Code
(218) 525-0852
Administered By
Administered by

500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155

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