ST. PAUL -- Just in time for the first day of spring, the first Mississippi River towboat has marked the unofficial start of the 2021 navigation season.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Paul district, the Motor Vehicle R. Clayton McWhorter passed through Lock and Dam 3, near Welch, Minnesota, on Friday afternoon, March 19.

The tow, which originated in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois, was pushing 12 barges en route to St. Paul.

The tow had earlier passed through Lake Pepin, which is the last major barrier to spring navigation because its ice is the last part of the river to break up.

Although navigation season has started on the Upper Mississppi, it will be limited through the end of the month because of ongoing construction south of Lock and Dam 25 near Winfield, Missouri.

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A 15-barge tow can move as much bulk commodities as 1,050 semis or more than 200 rail cars, according to the Corps of Engineers, whose St. Paul district operates 12 locks and dams to support navigation from Minneapolis to Guttenberg, Iowa.