Back in September I had the pleasure of trying out the new Paddle Share program sponsored by the Mississippi Park Connection in conjunction with the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. My goal was to see if it was accessible by bike, as well as to explore the city by paddling down the Mississippi.
So, is it accessible by bike? You betcha!
I started my journey from the Coalition office and biked north to the Mississippi Regional Park, which was a 6 mile ride. Once there, I parked my bike, unlocked the kayak I was assigned, grabbed the paddle and life jacket provided, and got the boat in the water. The entry point is a small, sandy area next to the lockers that you drag your kayak to and get right in the water. There is a handy waterproof map adhered to the floor of the kayak with the entry and exit points, along with images all of the bridges along the route so you can be sure you’re on track. Of course, it helps that you know which direction to start paddling in, so that you’re paddling towards downtown versus north on the river (being new to Minneapolis, this was my first mistake).
The kayak route is 3.9 miles long from the North Mississippi Regional Park entry point to the Boom Island return station. If you’re like me, you didn’t check the forecast before booking your trip and end up with an intense headwind the entire way, but you get used to it. Your reservation is good for 4 hours, so you have that entire time to kayak at your own pace. There are a few rental time slots you can choose from: 8am-noon (morning), 2pm-6pm (afternoon), or full day (8am-6pm). The 4-hour slots are $30 and the full day goes for $60. I chose the afternoon slot, and it gave me plenty of time to get from start to finish.
Essentially you get to spend a few hours paddling down the Mississippi, taking in the views, and enjoy a taste of life on the water. There are not places to stop along the way for a break, but it doesn’t matter because the point is that you are spending time in a kayak and not on land. At the end of the route, there is a large sign directing you towards the exit point and kayak return station at Boom Island (beware though, because for as big as the sign is, it is somewhat hidden from view due to the shrubbery).
My favorite part was actually the end (and not because I was having a terrible time) but because you get a really excellent view of the city in the final stretch and just before you have to pull out of the water you paddle under a nifty pedestrian and bike bridge.
Much like the way you enter, you also must pull your kayak from the water to the equipment return station a wee bit back from the water. I dropped my life jacket and paddle into the return box and locked up the kayak on the rack. From there, it was a short walk to the nearest Nice Ride station at University and Bank Street SE (about a 15 minute walk). I checked out a bike and began my 4 mile journey back to the North Mississippi Regional Park where I had left my bike and belongings.
One of the really neat features of this program is that in addition to your reservation being good for 4 hours, the code to your locker is also valid for that time, so I was able to leave my personal items in the locker at the starting point and retrieve them once I returned to the park. This also meant that I could take my helmet with me in the kayak and have it to bike back to the park on the Nice Ride bike, which I really appreciated. With my belongings back in hand and bike ready to go, I headed back to the Coalition office (another 6 mile ride).
It would have been even more awesome if there was a way to attach a bike to a kayak so that I didn’t have to get back to the North Mississippi Regional Park to retrieve my personal bike, but when I think about it, bikes on water probably aren’t a great idea.
The paddle share is currently closed for the season, but be sure to check the website for more information about the program and the opening day for the 2017 season.