Paddling a canoe is almost synonymous with northern Minnesota lakes and rivers. But along the shores of Lake Superior, it’s difficult to find a good spot to launch a canoe, kayak or any other paddled vessels amid the cold waves that could swamp them.
So the city of Duluth is planning to open a paddle-only boat launch along its other, calmer waterfront: the St. Louis River.
The City Council last week approved a 2-acre, universally accessible paddle park along the riverbanks near the bottom of the Spirit Mountain ski hill. But the 7-2 vote came amid controversy, after the city Parks and Recreation Commission voted not to endorse it.
The park site, including parking, a toilet and changing area, is near Tallas Island.
Some city residents argued that Duluth should keep its mission of preserving natural areas and expand on a developed area instead. They pointed to Munger Landing about a mile away, used mostly by motorboats.
“I think we need to be very careful to protect and preserve our green space,” resident Mike Schrage told the City Council.
Others questioned whether the city was moving forward amid dissent because a land owner is planning a mixed-use development nearby.
But park proponents said the city needs more accessible boat landings that are free from traffic and the waves from motor boats, especially for people new to paddle sports or those with disabilities.
Josh Sorvik, who uses a wheelchair after he was paralyzed in a ski accident, told council members that he has nearly been hit by people zipping around trying to get their boats in and out of the water.
“I really appreciate Duluth’s … goal of becoming more inclusive in the outdoors,” he said.
The $475,000 park is part of the city’s effort to revitalize the river corridor and reinvest in its western side, said Lisa Luokkala, of the Parks and Recreation department.
The city plans to buy the 32-acre site from St. Louis County and a railroad. The city also plans to remove invasive species and plant local pollinators on the site, Luokkala said.