No kayak? You can still paddle the Mississippi this summer

The Lowry Bridge
Behind the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization kayaks can be launched into the river in the shadow of the Lowry Bridge.
William Lager | MPR News

Have an itch to paddle down the Mississippi, but don't own a boat or canoe? No problem, a paddle trip just became as easy as using a bike share program.

A coalition of organizations led by the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area have partnered to create the Paddleshare program. You don't need any of your own equipment, just make an online reservation and off you go.

"Paddleshare allows people to rent a kayak, with a life jacket and a paddle and we are paired with Nice Ride bike stations so we have a way for people to easily get to destinations once they are done with their trip," said Katie Nyberg, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Park Connection, one of the partners.

The Paddle Share locker near the Lowry Bridge
The Lowry Bridge Paddle Share locker is tucked behind the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization building.
William Lager | MPR News

The service opens the first weekend in June, with two stations at North Mississippi Regional Park and at the Lowry Avenue Bridge.

Along the Mississippi River, kayakers will pass natural sights like the heron rookery and other islands amid industrial yards and city infrastructure on a transitioning Minneapolis waterfront. They can also stop for dockside dining at places like Sample Room and Psycho Suzi's.

Since the Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam is closed to water traffic, the takeout point is Boom Island Park. But later in the summer they hope to open a station south of the falls at St Paul's Hidden Falls Park. This would be a much longer route, nearly 7 miles, to a takeout point at Harriet Island. Entering the river below the Ford Dam, paddlers will be able to see the Mississippi gorge from the waterline, pass through the confluence with the Minnesota River and through the St. Paul waterfront.

Last year, about 300 people took part in a six-week trial program. The full program this summer plans to serve more people by increasing the availability of kayaks with three rental times per day, and by offering tandem kayaks. The tandems would allow parents to bring kids along for a trip down the river. The program is meant for experienced kayakers, and each rental requires a waiver signed with the National Park Service.

The Park Service pushed for the project as a way to connect communities with the river. The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is an urban National Park that winds its way down the river from Dayton to Hastings.

"The park can serve as a gateway to nature — more and more of us are living in urban areas and urban parks facilitate the an appreciation of nature," said John Anfinson, the park's superintendent. "The best way to get people engaged with the river is to get them on the river, to get used to interacting with nature and then they may want to make that same connection in the next national park that they visit."

One of the Paddle Share stations is behind the MWMO building.
One of the Paddle Share stations is tucked behind the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization building next to the Lowry Bridge.
William Lager | MPR News

A homegrown project

Katie Nyberg says her organization, The Mississippi Park Connection, is one of 12 groups that have partnered for the season.

"This is a quintessentially Minnesota project, where else would this have started in the world? We have the Mississippi River right here in Minneapolis and St Paul," said Nyberg. "Minnesotans have a huge affection for outdoor recreation it seems like a perfect fit for our community." Even the kayaks and rental stations are made in Minnesota. The kayaks are made by Wenonah canoe and the rental stations and the system behind them are made and maintained by iPaddleport in Albert Lea.

The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
The Paddleshare program is another way to explore the the Mississippi River along the Great River Road that follows the length of the river.
William Lager | MPR News

The kayak stations were originally developed to meet a need in Albert Lea. " It came about with a need locally to provide paddling experiences along the newly designated Shell Rock River State Water Trail, and that is how the company began," says Bill Howe, founder of iPaddleport.

That first station has been up since 2015, and the company hopes to expand and Howe says it's "getting good responses from other places across the country."

How to Paddleshare

Go to Paddleshare.org and pick a reservation.

Rentals are $25 for a single and $40 for a tandem kayak for a three-hour trip.

Worried about the weather? The National Park Service is keeping a close eye on safety and will close stations if conditions are unsafe.

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