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Rob Perez

Temperance River, a thing of beauty with hidden danger

Rob Perez

By Rob Perez
Hundreds of years ago, the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe named the water Kawimbash, deep hollow river. The water has been carving into the rock for thousands of years. Today, we know it as the Temperance River and it’s considered one of the deadliest in Minnesota.

Located between Schroeder and Tofte, the Temperance River flows 39 miles from Brule Lake to Lake Superior. It is a perennial favorite among tourists and locals alike. And why not? It boasts many striking waterfalls, multiple hikes in almost every direction, and even connects to the Superior Hiking Trail. There are three public campsites, and a paved bike trail runs east/west across the river from Schroeder all the way to Lutsen. Temperance State Park is one of the busiest sites on the North Shore.

So, why’s it so dangerous?

In spite of multiple “Swimming Not Recommended” signs, people can’t resist the temptation. And year after year, people described as “strong swimmers” drown.

For those thinking about taking a dip, Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen has a word of warning, “The river is extremely dangerous because of the strong current and the high walls where you cannot find a way out of the water.”

Jason Peterson, Park Manager at the Temperance puts it this way, “Swimming is an inherently dangerous activity. That’s why we have lifeguards at swimming pools. When you combine swimming with unpredictable currents, cold water, cliffs and the ever-changing conditions in a river, it becomes ever more hazardous.”

To the untrained eye, the Temperance River might not look perilous. Sometimes it’s hard to see past all that beauty. The problem is what you can’t see. “Another very dangerous place is the large pool below the highway,” Sheriff Eliasen warns. “There are many dangers below the surface including trees, root piles, and iron rods which have fallen in over time from work on the bridge. Any one of these can snag a swimmer and make it difficult to return to the surface.”

According to Jason Peterson, “One day the river is quiet. The next it’s raging – and very dangerous. The problem is, you just never know what you’re going to get.”

The official statistics show an average of one death every other year, but these do not include the close calls and injuries. Peterson strongly discourages swimming at the Temperance but asks, “If you must swim, please carefully evaluate the conditions, stay out of the current, and wear a life jacket.”

The river isn’t the only dangerous part of the Temperance. The parking lot is another very real hazard. There are designated cross walks and a 40 MPH speed limit, but Sherriff Eliasen warns, “We have had many accidents with drivers going too fast and pedestrians not paying close enough attention when crossing.” The Sheriff recommends some basic safety precautions, “Pedestrians need to check the traffic and make sure a vehicle is going to stop before crossing. Drivers need to pay attention to the high volume of pedestrians on and around the bridge area and reduce speed and increase awareness.”

It might seem obvious but taking a little bit of care can make a big difference.

Before taking a plunge, maybe think about the power of that water that inspired the indigenous people to name it The Kawimbash – deep hollow river. Yes, it took some time, a few thousand years or so, but it’s cutting through rock – every single day.

So, by all means enjoy the raw beauty and rugged power of the Temperance River. But do not forget that this river is still a wild thing. The best approach is with the proper amount of caution and respect.

Published in Uncategorized

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