Volunteers start sandbagging along riverfront in downtown Stillwater

Teams of volunteers started filling sandbags Monday in downtown Stillwater ahead of anticipated major spring flooding along the St. Croix River.

“It’s hard work, but fulfilling,” said 66-year-old John Reinhart, who lives in White Bear Lake but spends a lot of time in Stillwater. He said he’ll be working alongside the river through Wednesday.

“I’m retired and they needed help,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Well, I love that town, so I'm gonna go help.’”

Reinhart and hundreds of other volunteers are expected to fill as many as 30,000 sandbags this week. Those sandbags will help secure a 2,000-foot-long berm designed to hold back the river, which is expected to start rising in the coming days.

The National Weather Service puts the odds of major flooding on the St. Croix River at Stillwater at more than 80 percent this spring.

The city has endured major spring floods before and knows what needs to be done to protect downtown buildings.

The volunteers filling sandbags this week are coming not just from Stillwater but also from many other communities.

“This is a big deal for Stillwater and the St Croix Valley,” said Cathleen Hess with the social service organization Community Thread, which is helping to organize the effort. “At this time we have three shifts per day — two on Friday, but three Monday through Thursday — 25 people per shift.”

The work will continue through Friday. Hess said all of the volunteer slots are filled.

Ahead of the start of sandbagging operations, the city of Stillwater closed some parking lots, trails and streets near the riverfront. Downtown businesses remain open.

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