July 25, 2008

A New Perspective: Kayaking the Root River

A family out in a canoe rented from the REC.

You haven't seen Racine like this.

My wife and I headed out on the Root River Thursday thanks to the Root River REC Center opened this spring. We rented a tandem kayak - the first hour is free on Thursdays - and paddled upstream to the W. 6th Street bridge.

Geese hanging out along the shoreline.

Throughout the trip, Marie and I kept wondering where we were. Instead of homes and streets, we saw prairie grasses and swallows. Instead of concrete and cars, we saw trees hanging off the shore. It was a real change in perspective.

It's also an important step in reclaiming the Root River from its industrial past. While the river was used as a dump for decades, it's slowly being reclaimed as a natural gem through the heart of the city.

Marie leads the way in our tandem kayak.

The REC was started by a group led by UW-Parkside Professor John Skalbeck, who started a similar center down in Kenosha. Skalbeck received a grant to open the centers, and the board hired Ben Lehner to run the REC this summer.

Interest in the rentals - $7/hour on Fridays and Saturdays - seems to be increasing. About 20 people were waiting for kayaks and canoes when the REC opened at 4 pm on Thursday.

As for skill level, the river is calm and shallow and the kayaks are easy to paddle. We saw young teenagers out on the water in single kayaks having no trouble moving around.

Kayakers along the shore.

One note of caution: You will get wet. If you bring a camera (and you'll want a camera), bring a case or plastic bag to keep it from getting soaked.

All in all, it's worth the effort to checkout the REC. You'll leave with a new perspective of Racine.

A little work still needs to be done on the river ... here's a camper hung up on a bridge.


  1. I love to kayak, have done so on northern lakes; not so sure I'm ready to set my paddles into Root River. It would be nice if they were available in the harbor on Lake Michigan.

  2. Kayaking on the Root River, we have been doing that for years. It is peaceful, you see alot of wildlife, it's fun.

  3. The first time I kayaked the Root many years ago, we put in at Lincoln Park & went all the way to the harbor. It was a new & beautiful view of the city, at points feeling like we were paddling through some foreign country... I wish the REC Center the best success in getting more people out on the river.