The Glacier Stops Here

“What will we do this summer?”    

Well, if your family lives in the Driftless Area of the Upper Mississippi River Basin, you might consider fossil hunting, hiking, paddling, caving, foraging, geocaching, or fishing for trout on the over 600 trout streams across the region. Those activities will be the focus Friday and Saturday, March 21-22, at Rochester’s Mayo Civic Center at a new event, “The Glacier Stops Here Expo."  Rochester lies at the western edge of the unglaciated area.

For many families, recreational decisions are made by mothers. The Expo aims to help them find out about numerous fun and safe activities they can find across the area. Rochester’s Hiawatha Trout Unlimited Chapter volunteers will be on hand to talk about trout stream fishing and restoration opportunities, and to teach kids how to tie flies and cast them. 

The landscape of the Driftless Area wasn’t ground down by glaciers that covered Canada and the upper third of the continental United States before they receded 10,000 years ago.  Its limestone ridges and spring creeks weren’t covered by 2 miles of ice as was the land to the north, east and west. Early geologists found none of the boulders and gravel left by the glacier elsewhere, known as “glacial drift” and so named the area for something it lacks. It’s also known as the “Blufflands” for the bluffs along the Mississippi, and the “Coulee Region," using the name for the valleys first used by French traders in the 17th century.

The geology of the region offers blufflands and unique rock formations, fossils from the ocean that covered this area 350 million years ago, and 4,500 miles of clear, cold streams that usually harbor populations of brown and brook trout.  

The 24,000 square mile Driftless Area covers southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and a smidge of northwestern Illinois. Almost two dozen TU chapters have supported or led watershed restoration projects across the region. Each summer weekend, over a half million people come into the area for recreation and relaxation.  

Since 2004, TU has made a concerted effort to expand restoration efforts across the region. The Driftless Area Restoration Effort (TUDARE) was started by grassroots volunteers across the four states, and has expanded restoration projects five-fold in the past 10 years. Projects are mostly done on private lands, but every one is required to include public fishing access before any work is done. Over 250 miles of public access has been developed through the project. When a project is carried out, there is no cost to landowners. TU has worked with federal, state and county agencies, local conservation clubs, land trusts, schools and other local groups to build restoration partnerships. 

Talks on various recreation topics will be offered at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester throughout Friday afternoon and all day Saturday.  At a dinner Friday night celebrating the region, keynote speakers will be Ron Schara, outdoor television producer and host of “Ron and Raven” and Pheasants Forever TV, and Duke Welter, Communications guy for TUDARE and a longtime regional conservation leader.    They will tour the area with stories and visuals illustrating its sometimes-hidden features. For more information, go to


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