Native Americans and early French settlers used Wisconsin's waterways as important and practical avenues of transportation. On Thursday, June 17 (rain date Friday), paddlers will hop in their boats and put Dane County's waterways back to practical use as they navigate to work for the 12th annual, county-wide Paddle to Work Day.
The flagship flotilla of paddlers is scheduled to depart from Olin Park at 6:30 AM and make its way across Lake Monona arriving at Law Park (next to the Monona Terrace) by 7:30 AM. Participants can bring their own watercraft, but a Voyageur boat (replica of the type used by early French explorers and fur traders) will be available to accommodate 8-12 people. Paddlers are encouraged to reserve a spot in the voyageur boat by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or send an account of their own water commuting experience from Paddle to Work Day.
Last year, according to Sue Jones, watershed management coordinator for Dane County and event organizer, the Olin Park event attracted about 20 participants, but many people throughout the county also paddled to work.
"With over 22,000 acres of water in Dane County, we would like to promote the idea that the waterways are not only for recreation, but also for practical commuting," says Jones, adding that many neighborhoods in the county border accessible waterways and that she has met various people over the years who actually use paddling as a commuting option.
The event is meant to foster a culture of paddle-commuting, but in the wake of Bike to Work Week it is apparent that many things make aquatic commuting more difficult than bicycling, its terrestrial and equally eco-friendly counterpart. A Madison City ordinance prohibits people leaving their boats in Madison parks for longer than eight hours. This ban, which will be temporarily lifted for the event, can make routine, aquatic commuting difficult for a person with the typical eight-hour work day. Jones says she'd like to see some storage options installed for boat commuters, such as specialized racks a ubiquitous amenity for bike commuters in Madison.
Apart from its message of paddling practicality, the event can also be a fun break from the monotony of normal commuting. Last year, when Paddle to Work Day happened during Bike to Work Week, Jonathan Gero didn't want to "miss out on either of the two good things" and left his home near Tenney Park in his canoe bringing his bike along. After docking at the Memorial Union, Gero finished the end of his commute to the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences building on the UW campus by bike. Gero writes in an email, "I arrived [to work] energized by both a good upper and lower body workout."
Paddle to Work Day is part of Take a Stake in the Lakes -- a series of events centered on improving Dane County's lakes, streams and watersheds. Take a Stake in the Lakes has already had help from over 700 volunteers ranging from SCUBA divers hauling boat anchors and other trash off the bottom of the lakes to shoreline clean-up crews. A full schedule of events can be found online along with more details about Paddle to Work Day.