It was a warm night last week when my sweetie and I launched our kayak out into the Mississippi River, for an evening paddle through the forested areas of Fridley to the skyline views of north Minneapolis.
Our knowledgeable and cheerful guide was Amber Lynum from Paddle Bridge guide collective, a group that conducts water tours right here in the Twin Cities. A small crew shuttled us up to a boat launch just north of a water treatment facility, where we got a quick kayaking lesson before gearing up for a two-hour float.
I had done a similar kayak ride a number of years ago through Mississippi River Paddle Share, run through the National Park Service and its partners. At the time, all the docking spots were connected to Nice Ride stations, and I had a delightful time then. For this trip, I enjoyed the secret spots Lynum shared, like a strange abandoned piece of machinery that looked like it had been tucked into a cove for decades, and the magical heron rookery, bursting with blue herons, cranes, peregrine falcons and more. Yes, I got pooped on and nearly had a fish fall on my head from a flying bird that dropped it, but I had never seen such a magnificent aviary with winged creatures congregating all at one place, I felt like I had reached the real-life version of the Conference of the Birds from the Sufi poem.
Later, as we paddled downstream, we saw the sights of Minneapolis from the river vantage point, including the historic Grain Belt Brew House, and the giant steel spheric sculpture honoring veterans by artist Robert Smart, plus sunset views of the Lowry Bridge. We also passed the future site of the Upper Harbor Mississippi Terminal, where Lynum did a nice job discussing both the goals for the project (providing more access to the river in North Minneapolis) and also critiques — including questions about its environmental impact and concerns around gentrification.
Lynum not only helped me “see” the river in a new way by showing me things I hadn’t noticed before, she got me thinking about the river’s space in the Twin Cities consciousness. A resource that flows through and is a part of unceded Dakota land, the mighty Mississippi often gets overlooked. It’s something we pass over on a highway or a street, but often isn’t used as a place for recreation and rejuvenation.
Paddle Bridge and others are trying to change that, creating opportunities for folks to enjoy and appreciate the river, ultimately with an end goal to get folks to be more invested in the river’s care and sustainability. This got me thinking of other ways MinnPost readers might find ways to connect to the river through this summer, so I put together a list of activities you might think about.
A Night with the River
I have so many incredible memories staying up late into the night enjoying the Northern Spark Festival, a bringing together of public art, performance, engagement, all with themes around the environment, equity, and creating a better world for everyone. Sadly the organization is shutting down its operations, but they’ll have one last gathering, called “A Night with the River,” with sound installations put together by Studio Strange, poetry blankets by Witt Siasoco and Diver Van Avery, and a project called “Watershed Whisperers” by artist Bayou Bay. It takes place Saturday, June 10 from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Upper Landing Park in Saint Paul (free). More information here.
Mississippi River Paddle Weekend
Over 200 paddlers converge on the Mississippi River from Brainerd to Minneapolis in a series of different paddle races — including solo, tandem and team paddler events. All the races and recreational paddles end up at Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park by 5 p.m. on June 11, where there will be a Post Paddle Party with live music by Lehto and Wright and free food by the Coon Rapids Scout Troop 525. ($30 for single kayak tour, various prices for races/events up to $250). More information here.
One Voice Mixed Chorus Presents: ONEarth, Raspberry Island
One Voice Mixed Chorus performs on Raspberry Island with life-sized puppets, eclectic music and beautiful singing. Saturday, June 10 at 7 p.m., Sunday, June 11 and 3 p.m. at Raspberry Island. ($0-$100) More information here.
Stone Arch Bridge Festival
Enjoy music, artist markets, and culinary delights around the Stone Arch Bridge in the heart of Minneapolis. This year’s festival takes place Saturday, June 17 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, June 18 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (free). More information here.
Mystery on the Mississippi
Climb aboard the Jonathan Padelford for an evening of theater and socializing as you float down the Mississippi River. Put together by Mississippi Park Connection and the Mississippi National River and Recreation, in collaboration with Fearless Comedy Productions, it’s a murder mystery experience with beautiful scenery. Guests are encouraged to come up with their best 1850s costume for the event. Thursdays: June 22, July 27, Aug. 17, and Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. ($20-35). More information here.
Classical Actors Ensemble: Much Ado About Nothing
See this Shakespearean rom-com at various river spots in a performance by Classical Actors Ensemble. Nights they perform by the river include Friday, June 23 at 7 p.m. at Harriet Island, Sunday, July 2 at 7 p.m. at WaterWorks Park (free). Full list of shows and information here.
Leopold’s Mississippi Gardens
A couple of years ago, I went to a “Candlelight Concert” at Leopold’s Mississippi Gardens, and had a joyful time. It’s primarily a rental venue, but there are public events there too, including classical music concerts and live music happy hours. The concert I went to was indoors, but I appreciated being able to step right out to the water before the concert and at intermission. Check out their outdoor happy hour concerts with music and food trucks on Tuesdays throughout the summer, doors at 4 p.m., music at 5 p.m. (free). More information here.
Music in the Parks
Minneapolis has outdoor movies and music outdoor programming in the parks, at places like St. Anthony Nicollet Island, Water Works at Mill Ruins Park and Father Hennepin Bluff Park. It’s a great way to mix your culture and nature fixes throughout the summer (free). Find the schedule here.
The Wakpa Triennial— hosted by Public Art Saint Paul, borrows the Dakota word for river as its name. The public art festival takes place June 24 through September 16 at various locations around the Twin Cities and nearby suburbs, including a number of riverfront sites. Among them: “Flower Power VII” a project by the Native-led organization Oyate Hotanin, that arranges flowers in mosaic patterns around a sculpture by Ojibwe artist Duane Goodwin. That takes place August 5 from sunrise to sunset at Indian Burial Mounds Regional Park. There’s also “Prairie/Concrete” by a collaboration of terrific artists all thinking about land, art, nature, and ecosystems, and takes place Sunday, August 13, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Hidden Falls Park (free). You can find the full list of events on the Wakpa website here.
Irish Fair of Minnesota
Get your fix of Irish music and dancing, crafts, and more at the Irish Fair, your trip across the Atlantic by crossing the Mississippi. Friday, Aug. 11 from 3 to 11 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12 from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 13 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. ( $20). More information here.