Pictured Above: Granite Falls EDA Director Justin Bentass talks water recreation
By: Nicole Zempel
When people think of paddling in Minnesota the Boundary Water Canoe Area tends to come to mind. But the height of the Minnesota paddling experience may very well be closer than we think, and for those in Granite Falls, right in their own back yard.
The truth is, Minnesota offers numerous and varied opportunity for the paddling enthusiast. “There’s a state water trail within an hour of just about anyone in Minnesota,” says Erik Wrede, of the DNR state water trails program.
There are some 4,500 miles of mapped state water trails on thirty-three state waterways – all of which offer a range of experiences for paddlers to enjoy.
From gentle, easy going stretches of water to rapids that attract whitewater kayakers - Minnesota has it all, much of which can be found in Southwest Minnesota.
In Granite Falls there are Class I-IV rapids. This is rare in that similar Class rapids are hard to find in Southwestern Minnesota on a year round basis – the closest being Northern Minnesota.
According to Wrede, “There are some Class I-II rapids a few hundred yards upstream of the Minnesota Falls site and a Class I-II rapid right in Granite Falls, just upstream from Hwy 210.”
Taking into account the varying challenges at the Minnesota Falls Site, all factors add up to calling the entire site a Class II-IV.
Granite Falls has incredible potential to attract whitewater paddlers from around the region. With kayak registrations seeing an increase of fifty-six percent in the past five years and no slowdown in sight - Wrede says, “It is expected that the Granite Falls Area will see an economic boost in the recreational industry.”
According to the DNR, nearly 192,200 canoes and kayaks are registered in Minnesota – accounting for twenty-three percent of all watercraft registered in the state. Such registrations generate about 630,000 annually for the fund that pays for the water trails program.
And those water trail designations, of which the Minnesota River is one, can bring attention and dollars into the communities along the route. Statewide, outdoor recreation generates about 11.6 billion in consumer spending, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
“There’s been a major shift in how river communities view their river. In the past, communities would tend to view it as a dump for their garbage, a means for transporting goods, or as a source of hydropower – now communities are turning toward the river as a central point to bring the community together,” said Wrede.
And this is something that excites Granite Falls EDA Director Justin Bentass, “From the standpoint of economic development it’s definitely one thing to work on – we have this beautiful river here and it’s underutilized…I think if we can get the recreational aspect of the river going that’s going to be huge for the community and from a tourism stand point.”
Since his arrival he has been quick to take the reins on a portage improvement project originally initiated by previous Director Dennis VanHoof. In collaboration with the DNR, Granite Falls Riverfront Revitalization and the Conservation Corps of Minnesota - three locations in Granite Falls saw improvements this past fall.
Portage improvements were made both above (behind the fire hall) and below the Granite Falls Dam as well as Rice Park. “We want to help make it less intimidating for paddlers…hopefully we can do some good things and this is just the beginning of making things a little more user friendly…and maybe we can do future projects along the river as well,” said Bentass.
Paddlers to this area will also be treated to the only three stretches of the Minnesota River to be designated as “scenic” and “recreational” by Minnesota’s Wild and Scenic River Program. Spanning from the Lac Qui Parle Dam to one-quarter mile downstream from the Minnesota Falls site.
“It’s literally those who are passionate about rivers, whether they live on it or recreate on it or just love that it goes through their town – that’s the future of river stewardship in Minnesota – it’s people realizing the value of having a river in their community or near them,” said Wrede.
People in Granite Falls love water recreation - see below!