The Cannon River

13 February 2024
Paddling The Cannon, Photo Credit: Steve Braker

What lies at the heart of the Arb? Is it the plentiful prairies? The lovely wooded paths for wandering? The Hill of Three Oaks? I would argue for The Cannon River. It provides a habitat for the fish of the Arb and is central to the cycling of water, nutrients, and food for organisms. But where does this water come from?

Following the river upstream, prior to reaching our campus, The Cannon slices through the neighboring Dundas. Before that, it meets Faribault, where the Straight River joins it, and the various source lakes lie. Looking downstream, The Cannon flows out of the Arb and eventually into Lake Byllesby and Cannon Falls. Here it is joined by the Little Cannon River, and in a sequence of twisted turns, The Cannon eventually finds the Mississippi River. From its source lakes to the Mississippi, it is 112 miles long, with the Arb lying near the middle.

The Cannon flows gently through rolling hills, limestone bluffs, and lush forests, creating an idyllic setting for outdoor enthusiasts. Within the Arb, there are ample opportunities for kayaking, fishing, birdwatching, and believe it or not, swimming (just rinse off afterward). Wastewater treatment plants have helped the water quality improve markedly since early industrialization; some species like the bald eagle have even returned to the Arb. However, swimming is dangerous during flooding, and always consider wearing shoes due to glass and sharp freshwater mussel shells.

While we inadvertently appreciate The Cannon for its role in the Arb ecosystem and recreational activities, it was once crucial in the lives of the Dakota and Ojibwe peoples, which have long inhabited the region. They used the river for hunting, transportation, farming, drinking, and more (see Exit 69: Environmental Histories of Northfield, Minnesota). The Dakota people called the river “In-Yan Bo-Sda-Ta Wa-Kpa,” or “Standing Rock River,” referring to a sixty-foot rock protruding from the ground just South of Farmington, near The Cannon.

Luckily enough, it’s not too cold for you to enjoy The Cannon and the Lower Arb this weekend!

— Dexter Pakula ‘26, for the Cole Student Naturalists

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