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Closed for business: Upper St. Anthony Falls lock shuts down for good

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There is now a park alert on the National Park Service's website for the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam.

"Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock (RM 854R) is CLOSED permanently effective June 10, 2015. "

The towboat Becky Sue, pushing twin barges filled with steel, is the final ship to ever pass through the 53-year-old lock, the Star Tribune reports, floating in from upstream Tuesday evening and being lowered 50 feet as the lock cycled for the last time.

The lock is closing due to a Congressional decree, a precautionary step to block invasive carp from getting farther up the Mississippi River. The destructive species has been encroaching into territory along the river for decades, but have not made it past Minneapolis to invade the upper Mississippi.

WCCO reports groups of people stood shoulder-to-shoulder during the day to catch their final glimpse of the lock's towering doors slowly swinging open and shut.

Nearly 200 barges have floated tons of materials down through the lock since April – that traffic will shift to trucks now, WCCO says.

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Area dangerous for boaters

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued a warning about the dam, saying boaters and paddlers should avoid approaching the entire area now from up river.

“With the close proximity of the upper falls and dam to the lock, paddlers may have extreme difficulty moving back upstream due to strong currents above the dam, meaning they could be pulled over the dam into the dangerous recirculating currents below – a typically fatal situation,” Linnell said.

The DNR advises nobody – especially paddlers – to get closer than Flagpole Plaza (though actual regulations say you must stay at least 600 feet from the dam). At the plaza, just upstream of the Hennepin Avenue bridge on the West Bank, there's a 1.5-mile portage route if you want to continue downstream.

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MinnPost noted the Army Corps of Engineers will keep the facility functioning but only for flood control, which has been required six times in the life of the structure.

During the next two weeks, a set of steel bulkheads will be lowered in slots upstream to protect the gates. The lower gates will be left open and the water level inside the lock will remain at the level of the river below the falls.

Whether the plan to keep the invasive carp out of Minnesota's prized waters will work, nobody can say for sure. It's also unclear what long-term effects of the lock’s closing will have on the river.

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