Dakota County naturalists teach kids how to safely handle a canoe or kayak.
Amy Forslund has clever tips for helping kids remember the parts of a kayak.
“You bow forward,” the Dakota County Parks naturalist told kids at a recent parent-child kayak class at Lebanon Hills in Eagan. And parents can be stern, she said, so they sit in the back.
Forslund turned the process of learning the kayak’s anatomy into a game. After her explanation of parts, kids raced each other down to their kayaks to point out the parts.
Afterwards, they sat on the grass as Forslund described proper paddling technique: Hold your knees spread out as if you are holding a beach ball between them, she told the class, and then put the paddle above the ball. This is your “paddler’s box,” she said.
On the water, they practiced doing figure 8’s around buoys and played “Red Light, Green Light” to practice stopping and starting. As usual, class ended with a game of “dead fish polo,” which involved tossing wet sponges from kayak to kayak.
“Throwing wet sponges at each other has a nice cooling effect after a hot night,” said outdoor education coordinator Autumn Hubbell.
Lebanon Hills has several parent-child canoe and kayak classes coming up this summer and offers rentals throughout the summer.
Here are some tips Forslund offered for young paddlers just starting out:
• Find calm water. Schulze Lake, where they hold the classes, is sheltered by surrounding trees. “It’s a very small lake,” said Forslund, “more like a large pond. With the wind we’re having today, other lakes would have white caps on them.”
• Plan short trips. Forslund recommends probably two hours at the most. “Kids’ arms wear out pretty fast,” she said.
• Choose proper seating positions. Adults belong in the back, and kids should sit in front. In canoes, really little ones should sit in the middle.
• Keep kids hydrated. Bring along a water bottle. “Water is more important than snacks,” said Forslund.
• Wear proper apparel. This means a bathing suit and, ideally, a kayak shirt to protect from the sun’s harsh rays. Of course, your PFD (personal floatation device) should fit correctly. “When you pull the top of your life jacket up, it shouldn’t go above your ears,” Forslund said.
• Bring proper supplies. Store extra clothes or snacks in “dry bags,” and bring a bilge pump to get any excess water out of the canoe or kayak.
Once kids build up their skills, they can tackle bigger challenges. In the system of “kettle” lakes, or glacial lakes, at Lebanon Hills, paddlers often practice portaging before heading up into the Boundary Waters. Hubbell said portaging the entire distance takes about three hours, but that paddlers often just do a portion.
Adults can carry the canoes, and kids can carry the paddles, said Ryan Weber of West St. Paul, who publishes ThePaddleJunkie.com. “You can teach them how to get in and out of the canoe,” he said, “that there is a safe way to do everything.”
Once kids want to tackle moving waters, they can try out stretches of river that border Dakota County, like the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and stretches of the Mississippi near Fort Snelling and Lilydale.
“It’s really gorgeous,” said Austin Aho, a coordinator of the Mississippi River Challenge. “It’s undeveloped. It feels like the Boundary Waters. I was out there last weekend, and we saw baby eagles.”
Aho also urged people to consider the annual Mississippi River Challenge, coming up July 27-28. The fundraiser travels a stretch of the river along Dakota County as part of its course.
“All skill levels are welcome,” Aho said.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.