Paddling the mighty river

Annual canoe day event draws residents and visitors to experience the Mississippi River on a summer day.

Canoes and kayaks set off from the Brainerd Kiwanis Park landing Saturday, Aug. 1, to paddle down the Mississippi River to Crow Wing State Park for the annual Mississippi Headwaters Board's Canoe Day. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

While the coronavirus pandemic has people social distancing and wearing masks, that didn't deter about 45 people from attending the Mississippi Headwaters Board Canoe Day Saturday, Aug. 1.

Participants from the area — and even as far away as Grand Rapids and Mankato, as well as Fargo, North Dakota — attended the event to experience the Mississippi River in a meaningful way. As early as 9:30 a.m., the Kiwanis Park parking lot was full of vehicles with people unloading their kayaks and canoes to experience this annual event.

For those who did not bring a watercraft, Crow Wing Kayaks in Crosslake and Shirley Mae Outfitters in Little Falls were there to rent to them.

Tim Terrill, executive director of the Mississippi Headwaters Board, explained the organization is implementing a new signage program across the first 400 miles of the Mississippi River. He focused the group’s attention on a new kiosk that was placed by the canoe landing as a way to help local residents get on the river by themselves.

The kiosk provides history of the area along with safety and planning tips to help the paddler on their journey. He also pointed out that it has a printed map that shows the route from Kiwanis Park to Crow Wing State Park and it provides the approximate miles and time it will take someone to paddle the route. There is also a QR code on the kiosk that allows the person to use their smartphone to scan and download a map so they can follow their journey in real time down the Mississippi.


"It works like Google Maps," Terrill said in a news release, "only you don't waste as much energy on your phone because the map is pre-downloaded."

Terrill said none of this would have been possible without the support and partnering with the city of Brainerd, Baxter, and the Department of Natural Resources. "They all did a great job building and placing signs along the route to increase the user's experience."

Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, was also present and provided the paddlers with information about how this area protects the drinking water and water quality of the users downstream, Terrill reported.

"St. Cloud and the Twin Cities use our Mississippi river as their drinking water source," she said. Ruud also talked about the natural, recreational opportunities that are available here that provide people with an opportunity that is unique to Minnesota.

Canoe day was started about 26 years ago to bring attention to the importance of the canoe history of the Crow Wing and Mississippi rivers and the historic village of Old Crow Wing. In previous years, the canoe day event was tied into a fur trade encampment experience at the park with presentations on the people and history of Old Crow Wing, the historic Beaulieu House, as well as demonstrations such as woodworking and birch bark canoe-making, along with historic firearms and artifacts.

According to the Crow Wing State Park’s website, the fur trade-era brought the Voyageurs of the Northwest and American Fur companies. Not long after, traders established posts along the Mississippi and Crow Wing rivers and a branch of the Red River Trail brought ox carts through the area.


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