Lock and dam inspection gives visitors rare look at bottom of Mississippi River

As the water flows down the spillway at Saint Anthony Falls upper lock and continues downriver, it’s revealing something many Minnesotans have never seen. That is what lies beneath.

"I have spent a lot of time fishing and I’ve always wondered what is under the water," said Jim Hunter.

The drawdown on the Mississippi River is drawing in visitors in droves.

"I’ve never really been able to come down and look at it, so I think it’s pretty cool," Hunter added.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dropped the river level to perform maintenance on the upper and lower lock and dam.

"The last time we did an inspection was in 2008, about 12 years ago," said Nan Bischoff, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "We do periodic inspections every five to 10 years."

The water level is down about 12 feet.

The lower level means people are able to climb up, over and even down into the water on the east side of the river, onto areas that would normally be covered.

"It’s a lot of rock, it’s a lot of silt and miscellaneous things," Bischoff said.

Those miscellaneous things could be considered treasures by some.

"We saw bicycles and I saw kind of a sawed-off gun, some guy kind of dug it out of the river," said one onlooker.

"We did see a couple of bicycles down in the pool, one of them I think may have been one of the Corps of Engineers bicycles that the crew uses to drive around the lock," Bischoff said.

The upper lock and dam hasn’t been used since 2015, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says a new owner may one day want to, so the inspection process is important.

"Not only does the Corps want to know what’s underwater, but I think any future owner would want to know what’s underwater as well, and this is just an opportunity to look at some of those underwater facilities," Bischoff said.

The upper lock and dam will be open again on Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. with park rangers and volunteers on hand for visitor questions.

There is currently a study being done to determine what will happen with the Saint Anthony Falls upper lock and dam now that it is no longer in use by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

That study is expected to be complete within the next few months.

As for the current project, the inspection work will be done Thursday and water will start rising back up to its regular level.