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Finding Minnesota: Whitewater Rapids

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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SANDSTONE, Minn. (WCCO) – For many Minnesotans, there’s nothing like a relaxing day on the water. But for those who are up for a little adventure, the whitewater rapids on the Kettle River provide a thrill ride that’s free for those who dare.

Now that the winter snow has melted and the spring rains are rushing in, canoes are starting to return.

“The river goes up and down with the rain,” said veteran canoeist Tony Vavricka. “It rained a lot last night, so it really shot up overnight.”

The river is a scenic stretch of water, rushing south toward the St. Croix with enough rocky patches to get the adrenaline pumping.

Canoeist Glenn Felske compares running the rapids to climbing a mountain or running a marathon.

“When you run a Class 3 or Class 4 rapids and you come out of it upright, you feel pretty good about yourself,” he said.

Part of the rapid’s rush comes from the danger involved. The rapids have names like Dragon’s Tooth and Hell’s Gate.

“You want a boat that can turn pretty quick,” Vavricka said. “You definitely want the float bags in case your boat gets capsized.”

The water in the Kettle River has an amber tint to it from dead leaves and swampland runoff.

Vavricka and Felske regularly paddle the scenic stretch between Banning State Park and Robinson Park in Sandstone.

“It’s a beautiful park, and I’ll tell you, the best way to see it is by a boat, because you’re down inside of the gorge and there’s beautiful rock on both sides of you,” Vavricka said.

The two would like to get more people to experience what they have.

“And it’s surprising how few paddlers get out there and actually try putting their canoe on a river,” Vavricka said.

Two weekends from now, Vavricka and Felske will take part in the Kettle River Paddle Festival, hoping to inspire other adventurers.

The Kettle River Paddle Festival goes from May 4 — 6 with a race, a whitewater rodeo and fireworks near Sandstone.

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