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25 Years of Canoes & Camaraderie

Story and photography by Tim Ackarman

A massive ’79 Jamboree Rallye motor home rumbles in towing an equally massive canoe trailer, a functional work of art lovingly crafted from planks and pipes.

The mighty ensemble creeps down the service road through Halvorson Park, a narrow ribbon of trees and grass along the Cedar River just south of St. Ansgar.

The sound of tires crunching gravel is periodically lost among shouts of welcome from enthusiastic campers. Waving, the driver answers the salutations with marginally melodious notes from a resonant brass bulb horn.

Jim and Laura Hughes of Colwell have arrived.

Jim is a large, tall truck driver and onetime farmer with a demeanor as unpretentiously bold as his entrance.

He merrily greets everyone while Laura — of slighter frame and milder deportment than her larger-than-life husband — passes out sweet rolls and collects liability waivers.

Then, packed with fellow paddlers, the Jamboree leads a caravan on the nine-mile trek north to Otranto Park near the Minnesota border.

One by one the paddlers nose their vessels into the rapid current just below an upstream low-head dam.

The annual Cedar River Canoe Float is about to commence.

Event Becomes Tradition

Iowa author and educator Robert Waller quite inadvertently inspired the inaugural adventure. Waller, widely known for his best seller The Bridges of Madison County, recounted the joys of paddling the Shell Rock River in a 1987 essay for The Des Moines Register, and his words caught the attention of St. Ansgar’s then-restaurateur Stan Walk.

“Why couldn’t we actually do something like that on the Cedar?” he remembers wondering.

Walk contacted the author, and the two spent a day scouting along the river from the Minnesota border to Osage.

“An opportunity to meet Waller is what it really was,” admits Walk, though he also hoped it was an opportunity for economic development.

(Read more about Paddling The Cedar)

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