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Backwaters kayaking provides a day of scenic beauty

Kayakers paddle the gentle streams that wind through the Mississippi backwaters near Wabasha, Minn., on June 12. Steve Gardiner / Forum News Service1 / 6
On the Flooded Forest Tour with Broken Paddle Guiding Company from Wabasha, kayakers paddle a shallow side-channel of the Mississippi River. Steve Gardiner / Forum News Service2 / 6
River guide Michael Anderson of Broken Paddle Guiding Company in Wabasha, Minn., scans the route ahead, looking for eagles and other birds. Steve Gardiner / Forum News Service3 / 6
Rounding a curve in the stream, kayakers approach a railroad bridge on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River across from Wabasha, Minn., on June 12. Steve Gardiner / Forum News Service4 / 6
A bald eagle looks down on kayakers paddling through the Missouri backwaters on June 12. Steve Gardiner / Forum News Service5 / 6
River guide Michael Anderson (red boat) leads a group of kayakers around a corner in the Mississippi River backwaters near Wabasha, Minn., and Alma, Wis., on June 12. Steve Gardiner / Forum News Service6 / 6

When the Chippewa River pushed enough sand into the Mississippi River to form Lake Pepin, it highlighted the effort with an artistic flourish.

It created the Mississippi backwaters, a gem in the midst of extensive aquatic beauty.

The backwaters, braided with streams from the Chippewa River delta, seem perfectly designed for kayaking, and Michael Anderson, river guide for Broken Paddle Guiding Company in Wabasha, enjoys taking people there.

"I love to help foster and facilitate the connection between person and place," Anderson said. "The backwaters of the Mississippi is such a unique world. We can explain it or show pictures of it, but when we take people out there, and they experience it, they know the feeling of being on the water, not separate from it."

Anderson makes sure that every paddler, even if one who has never been in a kayak before, feels comfortable moving the boat through the meandering curves of the backwaters. He offers tips to make the paddling easier and encouragement to keep paddlers motivated.

Each curve in the stream displays a new scene. Silver maples hang over the water. Water marks on the trees, and aquatic vegetation draped over fallen logs illustrate the changing seasons. Turtles sun on exposed ends of submerged logs. Each view is a portrait of stillness.

"When we move at the speed of the natural environment," Anderson said, "especially when we are only a few inches above the water, like we are in a kayak, it really takes you in."

With no wind and blue skies, conditions are perfect. Anderson said, "Let's see how many different kinds of birds we can see."

His eye is trained. He spots several eagles perched high in trees. Some eagles seem comfortable with kayaks passing beneath them. Others take flight, and Anderson watches them, commenting on their grace and beauty.

The stream winds three miles through the backwaters before opening into the main channel of the Mississippi River. Anderson advises the group to turn the kayaks slightly upstream and paddle across the main channel before turning the kayaks straight downstream.

Ahead, the bridge at Wabasha is more than a mile distant. The current in the Mississippi is strong, compared to the gentle flow in the backwaters, and the kayaks move faster toward Beach Park and the end of the tour.

"Many times I have seen people arrive for a tour, and they seem rushed," Anderson said. "Maybe they drove a ways to get here, but after a three- or four hour-tour, they are much quieter. They walk more slowly. They seem to enjoy a different pace of life."

Steve Gardiner

Steve Gardiner taught high school English and journalism for 38 years in Montana and Wyoming.  He started working at the Republican Eagle in May 2018.  He focuses on features and outdoor stories.  

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