A first-of-its-kind kayak-sharing service along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis could be open for business this month, allowing visitors to dip their paddles in one of the state's most overlooked national park areas.
The National Park Service, with the help of a nonprofit, plans to install kayak rental stations this month pending approval from the Minneapolis Park Board.
The stations would enable visitors to paddle about 4 miles of the 72-mile Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a corridor that winds through the Twin Cities metro area from Dayton to Hastings.
They're calling it a paddle share.
"It's a first in the National Park Service," said Susan Overson, landscape architect and park planner with the Mississippi park. "I am really proud of the National Park Service for approving something so innovative and approving the funding for it. I am over-the-top excited to be able to offer a paddle share. … It's for people who don't own their own equipment. It's meant to be easy and affordable."
The kayak stations will match up with existing Nice Ride Bike Share stations, so kayakers will be able to paddle down the river and then pedal back to the launch point.
"It's the perfect combination of natural and urban," said Katie Nyberg, executive director of the nonprofit Mississippi Park Connection, which is collaborating on the project. "You get to see great blue herons and eagles and you get to see the skyline of Minneapolis. It's really fun."
Overson and local partners have been exploring the concept for more than a year with hopes of launching the project this year, the National Park Service's centennial.
If the Minneapolis Park Board approves the project at its Wednesday meeting, there will be 32 kayaks with paddles and life jackets available for rent at two stations: North Mississippi Regional Park and farther downriver at the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization headquarters.
The paddle ends at the southern end of Boom Island Park.
The distance between North Mississippi and Boom Island is 3.9 miles, and the journey by kayak could take anywhere from two to four hours, depending on one's pace and the number of stops made.
The fee will be $30 for a four-hour rental, which is limited to those 18 and older. For a link to book rentals, go to nps.gov/Miss.
Users will be required to watch a safety video and sign a waiver. Novice kayakers will be directed to other guided paddling opportunities.
"We would not recommend it for first-time paddlers, especially since it's not a guided experience," Nyberg said.
Overson said the program, which costs $215,000, is considered a pilot project. A federal grant and a $40,000 donation from REI cover expenses.
Nyberg said she's thrilled Minnesota is a national leader.
"Its just perfect that Minneapolis and St. Paul are doing it before anyone else," she said. "It's a quintessential Minnesota story."