Business & Economy

Rain and flooding dim Fourth of July spark for businesses, events

Several fireworks displays have been rescheduled or canceled

water floods an intersection
Water floods the intersection of South River Street and Second Avenue Southeast on June 20, in Cook.
Erica Dischino for MPR News

Welch Mill has sent tubers gliding down Cannon River for 51 years, ever since a 14-year-old Ross Nelson started the recreation business, charging a couple bucks a ride. 

But after recent flooding, it’s not tubes that have been traveling down the river.

“We saw hundreds of trees go by,” said Jane Nelson, co-owner of the southeastern Minnesota spot and Ross’s wife.

Fireworks cancellations and changes

“I don’t know what the river is even gonna look like when we get out there,” she added. “Our bridge right next to our building is filling up underneath with logs.”

Welch Mill is in Goodhue County, one of the 22 counties where President Joe Biden recently declared there was a major disaster — greenlighting federal funding to help with the recovery. 

While the worst of it has passed, Jane Nelson said the water is still too high and too fast for anyone to safely enjoy the water. Because of that, they’ll be closed on the Fourth of July — one of the days that usually draws the most customers.

Three children play in flood water
From left, Landen Meredith 14, Devin Becker 14 and Rowan Schmidt, 12, play on playground equipment submerged underwater next to the Cannon River in Riverside Park in Northfield on June 23. The three were later told not to play in the water by local police.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

On a good holiday, she said she’ll call up as many relatives as she can for some extra hands: “If it’s a really hot, busy day, we’ll have people in line all day. It could be 1000, it could be 500, it could be 2,000.”

This year it will be zero, continuing a pattern that’s persisted the entire month of June. Because of risky river levels, she said the business has only been open a total of two days this year, both in May. 

“We’ve never ever been flooded out the entire month of June,” she said, adding that the river’s speed is currently four times what she’s comfortable steering a boat across. 

The closure is a disappointment for many. She said the phone won’t stop ringing with people still hoping they’ll be able to come by. 

“A lot of our customers are like family now,” she said. “They’ve been coming for many years. And we’re seeing multiple generations of families coming.”

A kayaker paddles through a flooded intersection-1
A kayaker moves through the flooded intersection of South River Street and Second Avenue Southeast on June 20 in Cook.
Erica Dischino for MPR News

On the Wisconsin side of the river border, the St. Croix Marina is experiencing the opposite of what’s usually the “busiest week of the year,” said marina manager Jeff Holmes. It’s quiet over there in Hudson. “Basically shut down,” he said.

There’s a no wake restriction and no way to get to shore, which means hundreds of boaters from Red Wing and Lake City are having to cancel holiday trips. The city is missing people who would otherwise boat in to “wine and dine and shop.”

The marina restrictions have happened in the past, but not to this extent or this late in the season, Holmes said. July is incredibly rare. 

This year was supposed to stand out for a different reason: there’s a new $1.2 million, nearly 700-foot dock for boaters to land in town, he said, but it’s effectively an island. 

“You could tie up, but then you couldn’t get off the dock,” he said. “You’d have to literally swim to shore and then go to town, so that’s not happening.”

But not all water activities have to stop this Independence Day. 

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said people can still enjoy state parks and water — they just need to be extra cautious. 

The DNR is advising those who want to get outside to consult the department’s website ahead of time for safety advice and visitor alerts. Areas with high and fast water are a no go. 

Lisa Dugan, the recreation safety outreach coordinator for the department, said vigilance goes beyond doing research first. 

“Paddlers should be aware of areas in the water where there may be debris or underwater hazards with the high water that’s covering those hazards you may typically be able to see,” she said. “Let someone know where you’re going.”

Dugan said it’s a good idea for both children and adults to wear their lifejackets: “Tragedy happens in the least expected ways, so just prepare yourself by always taking those precautions.”

Sara Berhow, a spokesperson with the department, suggests stopping to speak with rangers when arriving at any park. They’ll have the latest updates in those areas.  

“We have a big state with a lot of great outdoor recreation opportunities. It just takes a little more planning and forethought to use them this year than perhaps other years where we haven't had these flooding scenarios.”

Berhow added: “The wet weather has also made mosquitoes thrive. So if you're going to be outside, bring your bug spray.”

Canoe and bike rentals

The Nelson’s beloved tubing spot is not the only recreation business that has been drastically altered by extreme weather. About 15 miles southwest of Welch Mill, Cannon Falls Canoe and Bike Rental is feeling the financial squeeze. 

Manager Angie Damman said the over 200 water vessels they rent out have stayed in the racks and will continue to stay put on the Fourth.

Park closures

It’s a big contrast from two years ago, when the holiday generated a packed waiting list. 

“As soon as the equipment would go out, it would be re-rented and go back out,” she said. 

Folks would get to the river for their early morning reservation, then spend the rest of the day fishing or swimming. They would grill and stay on the water until evening. 

Damman said she had to refund six reservations for this week: “That’s $1,000 alone.” They also had to pause bike rentals due to flooded trails, she said. 

The loss of business means about ten employees haven’t been able to work the whole month, she said, losing out on a couple paychecks. And that cash loss likely extends to the rest of town, which usually receives more tourists coming in from other cities and states to camp and recreate on the river, eager to spot eagles and deer.