Students and staff with Austin High School’s Peer Power Partners get ready to start paddling upstream Monday, May 13, 2019, on the Cedar River State Water Trail above the Ramsey Dam just north of Austin as part of the Canoemobile program.

Canoemobile returns to get students on water

Free community day event Saturday at Austin Mill Pond downtown

AUSTIN, Minn. — Monday, May 13, 2019 — With a fleet of six, 10-person canoes, the nonprofit Canoemobile program has returned to the Cedar River Watershed for a week full of getting area youth paddling the Ramsey Mill Pond area.

Minneapolis-based nonprofit Wilderness Inquiry started its canoe program Monday on the Cedar River State Water Trail above Ramsey Dam. The program is set up each day on public land across the river from The Old Mill Restaurant on Austin’s north edge in coordination with staff from the Cedar River Watershed District-Mower Soil & Water Conservation District.

After five days of school programming at Ramsey, Canoemobile will relocate Saturday, May 18, to Austin Mill Pond in downtown Austin for a Community Day finale event that will run on an open-house format from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This is one of the major events planned by CRWD and partners while hosting the We Are Water MN statewide traveling exhibit in Austin.

Grand Meadow sixth-graders in 2018 raise their paddles at Ramsey Mill Pond.

On Saturday, Canoemobile will set up along Austin Mill Pond’s southwest shoreline at the city pool parking lot. Free paddling trips in a 24-foot, wooden canoe will be offered, with a “boat captain” provided by Wilderness Inquiry for each canoe along with paddles and life jackets for participants. The smallest life jacket can fit a child weighing 30 pounds; waiver liability forms also will need to be signed before canoeing. Children under age 18 need to have a parent or guardian.

“Canoemobile is an awesome experience led by the highly talented crew from Wilderness Inquiry, who make canoeing fun, safe and accessible for everyone,” said Tim Ruzek, CRWD outreach coordinator. “When you can fit up to nine of your friends and family into one canoe, it’s also a great photo opportunity.”

Participants on Saturday will paddle up river from Austin Mill Pond and back, lasting about 30 minutes. Rain ponchos will be available, if needed, but canoe trips could be canceled or delayed in the event of heavy rain, lightning and thunder. A limited number of free items also will be given to those who take a Canoemobile trip.

Prior to the Community Day event, all public and private schools based in Mower County will participate in the student programming this week provided by Canoemobile. Plans are for three days of programming for all Austin Public Schools fourth-graders as well as one day of programming for 5th or 6th graders from Grand Meadow, LeRoy-Ostrander, Southland and Lyle school districts. Pacelli and Sacred Heart private schools also plan to participate on one of those days.

Hayfield in neighboring Dodge County sent about 50 fourth-graders on Monday to participate in Canoemobile thanks to a environmental grant by Dodge County. Hayfield also is the headwaters area for the Cedar River.

Hayfield fourth-graders take a selfie with CRWD coordinator Tim Ruzek below Ramsey Dam.

On Monday, Canoemobile also hosted about 28 students with Austin High School’s Peer Power Partners mentoring program that pairs youth with special needs and same-aged peers to promote friendships, understanding and advocacy.

Annual state funding for aquatic invasive species awareness and prevention efforts in Mower County is funding the Canoemobile program once again for Mower County youth. CRWD-Mower SWCD staff have coordinated the programming with Wilderness Inquiry and are helping with the land-based portion focused on learning about water quality and the history of the Ramsey area.

CRWD-SWCD chose Ramsey Mill Pond — the largest water body in Mower County at about 53 water acres — for the Canoemobile program to highlight an underused and beautiful part of the Cedar River Watershed. Ramsey Dam on the Cedar River next to the Old Mill Restaurant creates Ramsey Mill Pond, which is surrounded by wooded golf course property and nearly 400 acres of state wildlife management land. Paddlers also will flow under a historic, abandoned railroad bridge over the river that was built in 1911.