In Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota area, otherwise known as the Twin Cities, the National Park Service (NPS) is planning a combination pilot program of a canoe and bike share, set to launch next year. The project aims to open a stretch of the Mississippi River to expanded recreational use with canoe/bike stations at probably three launch points.
In combination with bike-share stations, existing trails and restrooms, the shared boats will allow paddlers to partake in a dual mode water-based outing – perhaps by paddling on a canoe downstream, breaking for a picnic lunch, and biking back to the start point, without spending a fortune on equipment.
The idea for the canoe/bike share was developed by Susan Overson who works for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Mississippi NRRA) as a landscape architect and park planner.
With funding from NPS, retailer REI and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Overson was working on developing a network of “alternative gateways” to the Mississippi River that are easy to access without a car. Meanwhile, she crossed paths with Mark Riverblood, the park superintendent for the city of Ramsey, about 30 miles from Minneapolis.
Riverblood oversees a small and successful canoe/kayak share program located at Ramsey’s Sunfish Lake Park. Overson said that, “It seemed like the infrastructure was in place to develop a pilot project using the canoe-share Mark had already developed, with a biking component. From there, it took off.”
The pilot program will cost about $150,000 and includes three components: the bike-share (using the existing trails); canoe-share (with 6-8 boats at each launch); and handicap-accessible docks. The NSP granted $132,000 towards the program and REI has promised $20,000, as well as the donation of boats and other equipment.
Now that funding is secured, Overson is focused on the plan’s smaller but critical details. The primary issue is how users will access the boats. One option, albeit a more expensive one, is to customize the canoe/kayak stations and integrate them with an app that will allow users to reserve the boats ahead of time and unlock them with a digital code. Another option is to create a first-come, first-served system.
With respect to charging a fee to users, Overson says that, “We haven’t decided if there’s going to be a fee, but there might be a way to provide that, too, if we can come up with federal funds and can provide operations and maintenance, which we are still trying to figure out.”
Overson adds that, “I don’t see too many obstacles besides just figuring out where the pilot will be – the combination of distance, safety, where there’s adequate amenities that make for a smooth, seamless experience. As we learn, we’ll expand out to other areas.”