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Smiles for Jake event to include Mississippi River history paddle

Smiles on the 'Sippi is set July 30 and includes a Mississippi River paddle with points of historic interest highlighted. The inaugural event is sponsored by the Brainerd Family YMCA, CTC, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center, the Mississippi Headwaters Board and Smiles for Jake.

A kayaker paddles through the sparkles on the Mississippi River north of Brainerd.
A kayaker paddles through the sparkles on the Mississippi River north of Brainerd.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Smiles on the ‘Sippi, a new free community event, promises to be a day of “paddling, community and positivity,” according to its organizers.

The Saturday, July 30, event is sponsored by the Brainerd Family YMCA, CTC, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center, the Mississippi Headwaters Board, and Smiles for Jake. It will take place at Rotary and Kiwanis parks in Brainerd.

“Smiles on the ‘Sippi was inspired when a group of outdoor enthusiasts with a passion for mental health wellness came together to form this community event,” according to an advertisement for the inaugural event.

The Crow Wing County Historical Society is also a partner of the event, according to local historian Carl Faust, creator of the Downtown Brainerd History Walk, a well-known tour.

“This one will be a bit different, as there will be two paddles, both up the river and back from Rotary Park,” Faust said. “The first is a race, followed by a leisurely historic site paddle.”


The Mississippi Headwaters Board is sponsoring Canoe Day Aug. 3 at Kiwanis Park in Brainerd.
A child paddles the Mississippi River near Kiwanis Park in Brainerd.
Photo illustration, Metro Creative Graphics, Inc.

The society will provide free historical interpreters on the Mississippi River from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the outdoor event to talk about life on the Mississippi in early Brainerd; there will be three locations on the river between Kiwanis Park and Evergreen Landing.

“At first, we envisioned a dot on a map with GPS coordinates. But some are not familiar with how this would work, so I thought of an actual marker on the site … something I have been wanting to do for some time but marker cost was a factor,” Faust said.

CTC of Brainerd created a map of the historical sites of interest along the river that flows through Brainerd. The map can be found online at https://bit.ly/3onDQJP . Click on the “Layer List” option in the upper left corner of the webpage and choose “Historical Sites.”

Sites that will be highlighted along the river and discussed Saturday by the Crow Wing County Historical Society include Cemetery Landing, the railroad bridge area, Whiskey Creek and more.

“If the water is high, like now, the feature may be 6 feet under water and unviewable, so the info on the map or a marker will be of more interest,” Faust said. “We will have a temporary vinyl banner on those three sites and someone there to talk about this site’s historical significance.“

Brainerd Community Action awarded the Brainerd History Group a grant to make a main marker to place at the new trailhead landing site explaining all of this, and the site markers as well, Faust said.

“I started a list of sites in 2012 when our city planner Mark Ostgarden asked me if there was anything of historical interest in or along the river,” Faust said.

A limited number of canoes and kayaks will be available for use at Kiwanis Park at the Smiles on the ‘Sippi event or people can bring their own for the history paddle.


“They would be amazed at how much physical history is still there, some as early as 1871. Also, the beauty that can only be seen from the water and more from a boat,” Faust said.

Other historic sites can be explored on foot with a printed tour available at registration at Kiwanis and Rotary parks on Saturday.

“From a boat, the view is not much different than what Zebulon Pike saw on his first expedition in 1805.” Faust said. “It is my goal to get more folks to experience that — either from on the water or in person — or on video and photos.”

The J.J. Howe Lumber Co. played a key role in shaping Boom Lake in Brainerd’s past. But scant evidence of the business remains at the lake today near the popular Kiwanis Park.

The history paddle is but one activity of the Smiles on the ‘Sippi event. There will also be a paddle race with canoes, kayaks and paddle boards and free entertainment such as face painting, rock painting, a ventriloquist show, a magic show, live music and a free lunch.

“When Smiles for Jake started, we knew we wanted to draw people to an event that provided them with a community venue that inspired positivity and normalized mental health discussions and suicide prevention awareness,” said Kristi Westbrock, CEO of CTC.

Westbrock is chair of the board of directors of Smiles for Jake, a Brainerd-based suicide prevention nonprofit that met with Brainerd Family YMCA CEO Shane Riffle to come up with the event.

“We thought the collaboration would strengthen the total event and both organizations wanted to hold an event in the city of Brainerd and highlight the parks and beauty of the Mississippi,” Westbrock said.

Mental health providers are on-site at all Smiles for Jake events to talk about suicide awareness and prevention. Informational materials are also available for all who attend on where to find help and resources.


‘Smiles on the ‘Sippi’ events

Parking for the event will be available at the Brainerd High School parking lot on East River Road. A shuttle service will be provided for traveling between Kiwanis or Rotary Park every 15 minutes.

The paddle races on the Mississippi River start at 9 a.m. Saturday, July 30, at Kiwanis Park in Brainerd for canoers, 9:15 a.m. for kayakers and 9:30 a.m. for paddleboarders. To register for the paddle races or for more information, visit www.smilesforjake.org/sippi .

Crow Wing County Historical Society will provide free historical interpreters at three locations on the river between Kiwanis Park and Evergreen Landing from 10:30 a.m. to noon. A limited number of canoes and kayaks will be available for use at Kiwanis Park or people may bring their own.

There will be free entertainment at Rotary Park:

  • 9 a.m.: Yoga class by the Mississippi River.
  • 10 a.m.-10:30 a.m.: Ventriloquist show.
  • 10 a.m.-1 p.m.: Face and rock painting, a balloon artist, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse.
  • 10:30 a.m.–11 a.m.: Magic show.
  • 10:30 a.m.–1 p.m.: Live Music featuring country music band Girls Night Out.
  • 11 a.m.-1 p.m.: Free lunch provided by Cuyuna Regional Medical Center.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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