Summer boating comes, at last, to Coon Rapids park

Fast-moving spring waters delayed the opening of a public boat launch at the Coon Rapids Dam.

The safety buoys are out and the public boat launch is finally open on the Mississippi River near the Coon Rapids Dam.

The opening, which typically occurs by the start of the fishing season, was pushed back to July this year because of fast-moving waters brought on by an exceptionally wet spring.

The buoys warn boaters of the 1,000-foot-long dam and are set out once the river is transformed into a lake-like pool behind the dam.

That work, which involves backing up the river through the use of inflatable tubes at the dam itself, had never stretched beyond July 4 in the 20 years that John Barten has worked for the Three Rivers Park District, which owns the dam.

Barten, the district's director of natural resources management, said the park system needed time for the river to slow to its summertime flow. Then, about a week ago, the pool finally reached its summer elevation of 830.1 feet.

The two-lane boat landing, which opened last weekend, allows people to enter the river for boating and fishing from Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park, and in turn join local residents who launch their boats from private docks upstream.

But homeowners, too, encountered delays this year in the start of the recreational season. Neil Onstad, a teacher who lives on the river in Coon Rapids, usually has his pontoon boat in the water in May. This year, he said, it was mid-June.

Onstad missed the river life.

"It's peaceful," he said of his pontoon. "It's my sanity spot."

At the public boat launch, just one man braved a light rain Thursday morning to launch his boat. John Ogren, 71, stopped to fidget with some of his gear while at the end of the dock. A few minutes later, he was in the main channel -- and then out of sight.

Reached by phone on Friday, Ogren said that Thursday was the first time he'd used the boat launch this year. It's a "nice facility," he said. He ended up catching a few smallmouth bass Thursday. But upstream, he said, the river is still too high, in his view, for quality fishing.

He was dismayed to see the rains continue Friday.

The annual move to back up the river creates a 6-mile pool for recreational purposes. As such, Onstad said that he hopes the dam is in place for years to come, and he sees hope for an extended life in a state proposal to make the dam a barrier to unwanted fish.

For now, however, he's just happy the boat launch has reopened.

"It brings a lot of people in to Anoka [County]," he said. "It's a unique opportunity to boat in a city area -- a great place to be, for sure."

Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109

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