Chippewa River Project - Steven Sorensen

The Chippewa River - UNDER CONSTRUCTION


I'm still working on this project.  It's a work in progress.  I want to photograph the river from its source in north-central Wisconsin to where it enters the Mississippi River near Pepin, Wisconsin.

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I grew up in Eau Claire, a city bisected by the Chippewa River.  In those days - the 1950s and 1960s - the river was largely ignored.  One drove over it on bridges and paid attention when it was in flood, but that was about it.

Today, it's completely different.  There are bike trails running for miles along the river.  The revitalization of downtown Eau Claire is centered on the confluence of the Chippewa and the Eau Claire River.  College students raft and tube on the river.  The river is now an important part of the city, not just something to get across.

I've spent two years re-acquainting myself with the Chippewa, not just in Eau Claire, but the entire river from the East Fork and West Fork in northern Wisconsin to the mouth of the Chippewa where it mixes with the Mississippi.  This book is a photographic record of my many trips to the river.

I've divided the book into four sections:

     1.  The East Fork Of the Chippewa River

     2.  The West Fork Of the Chippewa River

     3.  The northern half of the Chippewa River

     4.  The southern half of the Chippewa River


The reason for devoting a section to the East Fork and one to the West Fork is obvious.  A little explanation is needed for dividing the river into a northern and a southern half.  The Chippewa starts in the Northern Highlands, one of the five geographic provinces of Wisconsin.  It then flows south through the Northern Highlands, the Central Plain, and the Western Upland.  The Central plain, where crossed by the river is narrow, only a dozen miles wide.  I've chosen to divide the river in two section in Eau Claire, about where the river passes from the Central Plain into the Western Upland.


The river to the north differs from the river to the south in one very visible way:  The northern river passes through several towns and over numerous dams.  The southern river passes over no dams and through only one town.  The northern river is relatively straight in a narrow valley.  Bedrock is exposed in many spots and provides strong shoulders on which to construct dams.  The southern river is a broad, meandering river with wide beaches and numerous side channels and beaches.  There are no good spots for building dams.  The southern river flows into the Mississippi River between Nelson and Pepin, Wisconsin.  Its delta is about fourteen miles long as measured from the northern tip of the Tiffany Bottoms State Natural Area to the confluence at the Mississippi.  The delta spreads out into a typical fan shape south of Highway 35 and in the Nelson-Trevino Bottoms State Natural Area.  The Chippewa in the long-ago, geological past flowed so strongly that its delta was able to dam the flow of the Mississippi and form Lake Pepin.  It is very unusual for a tributary river to slow the flow of the main river in this fashion.


Bottoms are characteristic of the southern river as can be seen in the Nelson-Trevino Bottoms State Natural Area, the Tiffany Bottoms State Natural Area, the Nine-Mile Island State Natural Area, and the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area that includes the Dunnville Bottoms.  The Bottoms are the floodplain of the river.  In their natural state, they are open prairie with grasslands and oak savannah.  Most of the southern half of the river is border by bottoms.  There are no bottoms in the northern half.


I choose the dam in Eau Claire as the dividing line between north and south.  It is the last dam on the river.