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City approves WSU, Prairie Island Campground partnership

April 17, 2018

Paddling Winona’s backwaters just got a little easier thanks to a partnership between Winona State University and Prairie Island Campground approved Monday by the City Council.

The revision to the campground’s store agreement allows WSU to make its equipment available at the Prairie Island Campground for both campers and members of the public to rent.

Campground manager Jamie Schell said Prairie Island was an ideal location for paddlers of all experience levels to explore the backwaters and observe the bountiful wildlife.

“I think Prairie Island is an access point unlike anywhere else in Winona because of the ability to get in the backwaters there in a calm setting,” he said. “It’s just a great collaboration.”

Paddling activities like canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding have been growing in recent years.

WSU recreation instructor Eric Barnhard estimated that over the last three years there have been more than 10,000 participants.

He said Prairie Island was a natural choice because of the low risk and abundance of wildlife.

“There is almost no current there, plus there is a bald eagles nest you can paddle to see,” he said. “It’s really one of the sweet spots for paddling in the area.”

Before this agreement, equipment could be rented from WSU and retrieved from stations located along the river. However, renters were responsible for transporting it to the destination.

Barnhard said the agreement would allow WSU to provide the equipment, while the campground would handle much of the face-to-face rental services as part of a revenue-sharing model.

“We’re just removing roadblocks for community members,“ he said.

“You don’t have to be a camper, either,” he said. “If someone from the public wants to come get a boat, this will now become the water sport or paddling sports hub for Winona.”

The proposal was well received by many council members including Michelle Alexander, who thanked WSU for partnering with Prairie Island Campground to make water sports actives more accessible.

Alexander said she recalled going out on the backwaters in a canoe after a number of water trails were opened to the public.

“I didn’t really realize how accessible it is for new beginners or the amount of wildlife,” she said. “It’s a completely safe environment for families.”

She said this partnership would eliminate a barrier for families that didn’t have a way of transporting a canoe, kayak or paddleboard from WSU to an inlet.

“Not everyone would be able to go get a canoe and then get it down there,” she said.

The council unanimously approved the revision to the store agreement and the license agreement with WSU.