The Crow Wing Paddlers Club has provided lake goers plenty of opportunities to enjoy area lakes and rivers from a kayak or paddleboard.

Now in its eighth year, the club is going strong.

“I had gotten the idea of starting a paddling club because my vision has been to spread the sport of paddling,” club coordinator Jim Bergquist said. “I figured if I spread the sport of paddling, we're going to do OK. We're the only ones around here doing it and then you just meet people and you get to experience all the different waterways around you. It's just a win-win situation.”

Bergquist - owner of Crow Wing Kayaks and Wind, Water and Wheels in Crosslake - believes he reaches roughly 300 people with his club emails. He also believes he coordinates one of the largest paddling clubs in the state.

“I didn't look into many other paddling clubs,” he said. “I think a lot of them do it differently than I do. I didn't want a club where I have to keep track of the members and collect dues. I just came up with this idea of, ‘You give me your email and you're in the paddling club.’ … It's open-ended, and it is open to anybody. If you come, you can bring somebody else without telling me about it.”

In 2019, the club embarked on 15 paddling trips throughout Crow Wing and Cass counties from May through October. The start of the club's 2020 season was delayed due to COVID-19, but is now back on track.

“Some are hard, some are easy,” Bergquist said. “Some are long, some are short. We just tried to make it so that everybody can find a paddle or two that they would want to do.

“You don’t even have to tell me (if you are coming along), because I’m going. If I’m the only one there - and I have been on every one but one in eight years - I’m still going to go.”

Assuming individuals already have the necessary equipment, there is no cost to participate. Any equipment needed - including paddles and life preservers - can be rented from Bergquist’s store, often at half-price if used for these events.

Moving forward, the coordinator hopes to add more of an educational aspect to events - including topics such as fishing from kayaks, bird-watching and foraging for edible plants.

He hopes to line up an overnight trip, where paddlers would likely camp on the island between Upper and Lower Whitefish lakes.

Regardless, the club expects to have plenty of activities planned to provide an enjoyable and relaxing experience.

“It’s such a different pace of life,” Bergquist said. “It's kind of a neat sport because you can do it in a group, but you're still by yourself. You're still on your own. We figured out in the river, there's plenty of room in the river to do what you want to do. I find it extremely therapeutic.”

For Bergquist, spearheading the club provides a better perspective for someone in the business of kayaks and paddleboards.

“First of all, it's educational for me, because it's rivers and places I want to know about for work,” Bergquist said. “Secondly, it just makes it worthwhile for me. If I just sit here the whole time, working … These are the kinds of things I want to do.

“We're not a high-end racing club. That isn't me. This suits the waters around here and it suits our kayaks. You don't take them out on Lake Superior, and please don't take them down whitewater. They're just handmade … this works for us.”

One success of the club in recent years has been the Paddle to the Moon and Back event, which sees paddlers trek an area lake under a full moon.

“Three years ago, I had set up a night paddle. I found a night of the full moon and I thought, ‘Hey, this would be cool.’ So I put it as one of our regular events. We did it on a small lake between Crosslake and Jenkins. About 30-some people showed up, and they just loved it. It was a perfect night.”

After a few successful night trips - growing in numbers to 100 paddlers last year - Bergquist decided to open the event to the whole community as a benefit. In the event’s first year, proceeds went to help fund some costs of the new Crosslake Community School building. Since then, and for the foreseeable future, proceeds go to Saving Hearts for Suicide Prevention.

“Unfortunately, that is always going to be an issue,” Bergquist said of suicide. “It covers all races, age groups and communities.”

This year’s Paddle to the Moon and Back event is scheduled to take place Thursday, Aug. 6. Paddlers will take off from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Campground in Crosslake and paddle to Moonlite Bay before returning south, ideally with the moon shining on their faces.

“So this year, we're going to do it on the night of a full moon,” Bergquist said. “We have a lot of people that want to support this group, but they don’t necessarily want to paddle, so they meet us at the bar … I don't know what the largest paddling event in Minnesota is, but I would like to someday see if we could get 500 paddlers and raise money for a good cause.”

The club's next event is scheduled for Saturday, June 27, and its fourth annual Veteran's Kayak Fishing Tournament - open to all veterans free of charge, is schedule for the following day at 1 p.m. Those looking to join the club or take part in an event can find more information on the Crow Wing Paddlers’ Facebook page.