The Crow River is a tributary of the Mississippi River in south-central Minnesota. Used to define the boundary between Wright and Hennepin counties, the Crow River has three forks: the North Fork, the South Fork and the Middle Fork, which is a major tributary to the North Fork. The South Fork of the Crow River flows eastward for 104 miles from Little Kandiyohi Lake in south-central Kandiyohi County through Meeker County, McLeod County, Carver County and Wright County.
The South Fork of the Crow River offers enjoyable paddling for canoeists and kayakers near the Twin Cities. Because it is mostly gentle, with only a few easy stretches of rougher water, the South Fork is suitable for beginning paddlers unless the water is high due to flooding. From Little Kandiyohi Lake to the town of Cosmos, the river has been channelized for agricultural drainage and can experience low flows. The segment of the South Fork from Cosmos to Hutchinson is wider and navigable by canoe at normal water levels. From Hutchinson to Biscay, the river is narrower, but is also suitable for paddling. The segment from Biscay to New Germany (27 river miles) has numerous log jams, and is not well-suited for paddling. Another popular stretch is from Watertown to Rockford. The South Fork also offers very nice scenery, but beware of fallen trees in the bends, as they can become a hazard, especially as you approach the confluence of the South and North Forks.
The area around the South Fork is good for scenery and recreation. Much of the area used to be covered by the "Big Woods," remnants of which protect the area against soil erosion and wind. Small areas of prairie dot the landscape, noteworthy for their presence in mainly wooded areas. The Gopher Campfire Wildlife Preserve along the shore in Hutchinson protects a resident population of 500 waterfowl as well as other wildlife.
Around Hutchinson, canoeists, boaters and anglers can enjoy the Luce Line Trail, well-maintained landings, camping facilities and bathrooms. There is also primitive riverside camping at Rockford's Riverside Park, near the convergence of the South and North Forks, as well as group camping at Lake Rebecca Park Reserve. Though some new houses have been built alongside the river, most of the shoreline provides natural scenery.
Fish and wildlife
Because of the varied habitats surrounding the South Fork, the array of wildlife is very diverse. Along the shores, look for white-tailed deer, fox, coyote, cottontail rabbit, squirrels, muskrats, beaver and mink. Songbirds, geese, ducks, herons and eagles (even a few crows) grace the skies and shallows.
Within the waters of the South Fork is a fish population consisting of 21 species. The most important game species are northern pike, walleye and channel catfish, but you can also find bowfin, carp, bullhead and other fish.
The Minnesota Department of Health has guidelines for consuming fish taken from Minnesota's lakes and rivers. Go to their Fish Consumption Advisory Page to find out more.
Long ago, between 1200b.c. and 1700a.d., the South Fork was the home of one of the earliest native peoples known as the Woodland Culture. The Woodland Culture was a hunting and gathering people that depended upon the seasons and available resources to live. Later, the Dakota Indians used this area for hunting and temporary lodging. The river was originally named "Hassan" by Native Americans, which means "maple leaf", but was renamed "Crow" by Ojibwa Indians for the black bird they called "marauder of newly planted corn." It was only until 1851 with the Treaty of Traverse de Sioux that the area was opened for settlement by white pioneers.
One year after the city was settled in 1857, the first dam was constructed in Hutchinson. In 1858, a steamboat was built on the river and made its maiden voyage all the way down the South Fork and onto the Mississippi. Though the water of the South Fork was high enough to accommodate a steamboat for the first five years after it was built, the steamboat never returned to its origins. The owners were offered a chance to sell their boat to run the Mississippi between Minneapolis and St. Cloud, a much busier route.
Hutchinson became a bustling settlement in any case, with a flouring mill built in 1866. This mill was destroyed by fire in 1884 but reconstructed two years later. In 1910, the Gopher Campfire Club was formed for preserving game and fish in the area, making it the first conservation club in Minnesota. During the 1930s, the Works Project Administration constructed a bathing beach and fieldstone bathhouse on the south shore in Hutchinson.
Though agricultural development was difficult due to the wooded landscape, farming was the chief occupation for over a hundred years. Agricultural lands still form the vast majority of the South Fork watershed, but some residents are beginning to shift away from agricultural jobs, with some even commuting to the Twin Cities for work.