The launch of a first-of-its-kind National Park Service canoe- and bike-sharing service along the Mississippi River carries an undeniable “wow” factor. But park planners agreed this week that they need to find a location that’s safe and convenient.
Two dozen state, local and national parks stakeholders tested the 12-mile bike and 9-mile river route this week on one stretch between the city of Ramsey and the Coon Rapids Dam.
Many said they found the canoe portion safe and navigable, but that more brainstorming is needed for the bike portion. The group biked along the twisting, sometimes shoulderless suburban streets that make up parts of the Mississippi River Trail.
The Twin Cities area is home to a national park, the 72-mile-long Mississippi National River & Recreation Area. The canoe- and bike-sharing service would make it possible for more residents and tourists to experience the urban river, said Susan Overson, National Park Service landscape architect and park planner.
The goal is to launch a portion of the service by summer 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Planners expect to secure $152,000 for the project, including federal dollars and donations.
The urban national park has few land holdings, so it relies on partnerships with state and local parks to access the river.
On Thursday morning, the group — including staff members from the National Park Service, the Three Rivers Park District and Ramsey — slid their canoes into the water at Mississippi West Regional Park in Ramsey.
“The uniqueness of this and the population base around it points to huge potential,” said Erik Wrede, DNR water trails coordinator. “The DNR loves getting people outside. … We just need to make sure it’s safe and make sure people are interested in it.”
The canoe-sharing would take place north of the Coon Rapids Dam, mostly in an area already used extensively for boating and water sports.
The river channel was largely free of snags and rocks this late summer morning and the group — a mix of pros and novices — easily navigated the 9-mile paddle to Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park, owned by Anoka County on the north bank and the Three Rivers Park District on the south.
Paddling at the rear of the group, Overson and other park staffers said there are inherent risks to any national park excursion. They aim to provide safety gear, river information and potentially an online education component to keep park users safe.
The canoe and bike share, like all national park programs, will rely on users’ common sense and good judgment, park staff said.
The Park Service already partners with the nonprofit Nice-Ride bike-sharing service in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. Nice Ride is a potential partner for the venture.
Nice Ride Executive Director Bill Dossett, who joined the trip, said that before bike-sharing was launched in 2010, it, too, did risk assessments.
“It was up to that [Nice Ride] board of directors to make a decision — ‘Is it fundamentally safe to launch a 65-station bike-share system?’ — knowing a lot of people would not wear helmets and knowing people would be using bikes in an urban system for the first time,” Dossett said. “Today we believe that was a right decision. … The safety record of bike sharing has been strong.”