On a crisp September morning, volunteers and paddlers alike gathered at Hidden Falls Regional Park for the 9th annual Great River Race. The event, which collected $105,000 from 29 sponsors this year, has been rising in popularity since its start in 2010. What came from humble beginnings on the Mississippi River has now evolved into a greater opportunity to bring kids from urban communities into the outdoors.
Companies have the ability to choose from three levels of sponsorship, which include the “Can-Do Canoe Sponsor” ($3,000 to support 100 Minnesota youth) and the “Presenting Sponsor” ($10,000 to support 500 Minnesota youth); new this year is a third sponsorship level called “Can-Do x 2,” where companies can contribute $5,000 to sponsor a boat for their company as well as a boat for youth. The money raised from these sponsorships supports Wilderness Inquiry’s Canoemobile program. You can learn more about Canoemobile here.
Talia Sheldon-Desjardins, a volunteer for the event, commented on this idea of sponsorship. “[With this program] Wilderness Inquiry brings people outside, teaches them about collaboration, and shows them to care for our community and our environment, and that’s what I really appreciate.”
Starting at 8:30 am, teams started gathering with the rest of their group along the north side of the river. From dragons and unicorns to colorful wigs, many teams came in with the goal of earning the Spirit Award. “We have been talking about this for weeks” stated T.W., a member of the Wacky Wig team.
As the air began to warm up, so did the competitors. Various groups began to discuss preparation, paddling tips, and overall strategies for the race, later followed by each team posing for a picture in front of a newly furnished Wenonah canoe. This canoe represents a prototype of the new sage green fiberglass canoes that were shipped to Wilderness Inquiry’s headquarters earlier this week; yet for the race, 26 of the nonprofit’s classic Voyageur canoes were utilized.
Before the race began, teams gathered to hear WI Founder and Executive Director Greg Lais welcome paddlers and open the ceremonies. Joining him on stage were supporters including former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton, Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.
Sayles-Belton, Mayor of Minneapolis from 1994-2001 and designated “Wilderness Woman,” spoke to the impact of Great River Race supporters. “Thanks to these wonderful sponsors, Wilderness Inquiry is able to provide opportunities for youth across Minnesota and around the country to get outdoors… It helps young people become stewards for our national resources and improve their academic skills.”
Carter then discussed the significance of the area. “165 years ago, settlers saw this river and decided, ‘Wow, let’s build a city here.’ Over the years, we have lost that connection that these settlers had.” He went on to explain how opportunities like this help people in modern times bond in a similar way. “It is a pleasure to be here,” he concluded.
Frey helped bring the speeches to a conclusion. “We’re protecting this vital resource behind us, we are doing it together as the Twin Cities, and I couldn’t be more proud to be out here today.”
Justice Anne McKeig, of the Minnesota Supreme Court, held the honor of starting the race with the blow of an air-horn. With this, paddlers gathered their gear and trekked to the riverbank to get into their canoes. The teams did a staggered start, and each boat was individually timed in order to determine the winners. The route was set up so the paddlers would navigate around Pike Island, above the northern portion of Picnic Island, and finally upstream back toward the starting line.
2019 Great River Race results:
1st Place: VAA Engineering
2nd Place: Ryan Companies
3rd Place: University of Minnesota – College of Science and Engineering
4th Place: TCF Bank
5th Place: City of Minneapolis (Sponsored by Friends of the Lock & Dam)
6th Place: Polaris
7th Place: LimnoTech
8th Place: John DuBois #1
9th Place: City of Saint Paul
10th Place: Harding High School (Sponsored by Ryan Companies)
11th Place: Sawmill
12th Place: Lakewinds Co-op
13th Place: FRWD
14th Place: Edison High School (Sponsored by Polaris)
15th Place: Mississippi Park Connection
16th Place: Race Judicata
17th Place: Thomson Reuters
18th Place: John DuBois #2
19th Place: Finch Family (Spirit Award winners!)
20th Place: Faegre Baker Daniels
21st Place: Volunteers (McKnight Foundation, MPR – The Water Main, Higgins Family, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community)
22nd Place: Winnebago
23rd Place: Dorsey & Whitney
24th Place: Travelers
25th Place: Pelican Leadership Academy
26th Place: Pathways to Children
While a little bit of competition is riveting, Wilderness Inquiry hosted the event with the intention of providing children opportunities to get into the outdoors. Mayor Frey encapsulated the importance of the event — “We have glaciers that are literally falling into the ocean. And you have the lungs of our world that are on fire in the form of the Amazon. It’s up to us to make sure that we’re bringing up our young people in a way that they can be stewards for the future.”
Check back on this page to get involved with our next Great River Race!