Open climbs and paddles offer outdoor activities and community engagement

Zach Bailey

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Junior Nikko Aries kayaks down the water. (Photo by Sarah Murray)

Junior Nikko Aries kayaks down the water. (Photo by Sarah Murray)

Zach Bailey/Winonan

When students first arrive to Winona, one of the first things they notice while driving into city limits are the bluffs and the river.

Winona State University’s Outdoor Education and Recreation Center (OERC) can give these new members of the community first-hand experience with all Winona has to offer.

Every Tuesday and Thursday night from now until the end of October, Winona State students and other members of the community can either pick up an oar to paddle down the Mississippi River, or strap on their climbing shoes and scale up the side of Sugarloaf.

According to the OERC, open climbs are held every Tuesday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Sugarloaf, and open paddles are located at Prairie Island Campground every Thursday at 4 p.m.

After first starting a few years ago through Winona State’s Recreation Tourism and Therapeutic Recreation (RTTR) department, Open climb and paddle has become a popular form of recreation in Winona.

Ian Brennan, an employee of the OERC, said it is easy for students and community members to take advantage of these opportunities.

“Because I have previous rock climbing experience, I was asked to attend the Base Managed Climbing Instructor course which is run through the Professional Climbing Instructors Association,” Brennen said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a WSU student or a community member, there is no cost for either of these events, plus, all the equipment is provided.”

In the past helpers were usually students who work in the OERC, Brennen said, but recently the OERC has extended to using volunteer help as well.

More than just a physical activity for people, Brennen said the events offer an added bonus to participants.

“Getting involved in extracurricular activities as well as getting involved with the community are some of the best things you can do as a new student,” Brennen said. “Open climb does exactly that. It is a way to meet like-minded people who are interested in outdoor activities as well as engage the community and get them excited about the ‘outdoor playground’ that surrounds them.”

First year student Junesok Yang recently participated in open climb for the first time.

“ It was the first time I had ever rock climbed,” Yang said. “The climb was very trying, but the scenery of Winona was beautiful and made it all worth it.”

For those who may not love the outdoors but still want to get a good climb in, Winona State offers a new rock climbing wall. The climbing wall is open to the public, located at Winona State’s Wabasha Recreation Center on 351 Lafayette St.

“To get involved with open climb or open paddle, all that is required is a good attitude and an eagerness to get involved with the community,” Brennen said.