In the Spotlight

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Whitewater Course Proposed for Mississippi River
By Eric Jansen
September 23, 1999
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To see a complete report from the Department of Natural Resources, see the DNR's trails and waterways page.
Minneapolis' waterfront could be the site of a whitewater rafting and kayaking park in a few years. Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources has published a study that says the Mississippi River through downtown Minneapolis is a suitable spot for the whitewater course.

THE DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES report says a proposed $15 million riverfront park and whitewater course is feasible, both economically and logistically. It would be built along the east bank of the Mississippi River, starting just downstream of the Stone Arch Bridge.
Tilton: Basically what we want to do is to bring back some of the rapids that originally existed in the area of St. Anthony Falls prior to the time the area was captured by industry.
Bill Tilton is a St. Paul lawyer and a kayaker who's spearheading a drive for the proposed whitewater park. Tilton say now is the time to make the riverfront and the river itself more accessible to the public.
Tilton: Ninety-nine percent of this is just for people with no experience in a kayak, who've never been in a whitewater canoe, who want to get in a rubber raft and play. It would also be a course that would qualify for competition in hard kayaks, including Olympic-level competition. There would be that sort of event that would occur there on a regular basis.
Tilton says the course would be made by cutting a four- or five-foot deep, 2,000-foot-long channel in the east bank of the river, starting near the University of Minnesota's steam generating plant. He says the 25-foot drop in elevation makes it ideal for a recreational whitewater course.

Currently, there's a kayak slalom course just upstream of the Stone Arch Bridge. The gates consist of white poles suspended from cables over a side channel of the river.

Uptown resident Morgan James, one of two kayakers taking runs through it one recent evening, has been kayaking about a year. She says she would have liked to have been able to kayak in town when she was learning, rather than driving an hour or more to Taylor's Falls or the St. Louis River.

The course is on water James calls "flat." She says she'll go to the new course more often.
James: Because it'd be nice to have some features to work with. This is all flat water, there's no rocks, there's very little current going through here right now, but to have some really nice features, as far as holes, and waves and stronger eddy lines and stuff like that to work on, that'd be phenomenal.
Dave Gustafson, president of the Cascaders Canoe and Kayak Club, says the new course would be built with plenty of these man-made features. And even though most people who use the course would be less-experienced rafters, it could be used by freestylers.
Gustafson: Where you're doing tricks and as Morgan was saying, using the features on the river, like the holes and the waves, you're either surfing on a wave, or doing a move called a cartwheel, where you're boat goes end over end vertically.
The DNR feasibility study estimates the proposed course would draw 50,000 kayakers, canoers and rafters a year, and perhaps triple that number of friends and other curious spectators. It says user fees could support the ongoing operation of the park, which would cost about $15 million dollars to build. About half that money would be for the whitewater course itself, the rest for the adjoining park with bikeways, fishing piers and trails to make the Mississippi more accessible to the public.