As the newest member of the Conservation Minnesota team, I’ve been busy reaching out to community members, elected officials, policy experts, lake association members and anyone who shares a passion for Minnesota’s Great Outdoors. Imagine my excitement when I received an email from a Clear Lake Association member who simply said, “I want to help.” After several phone conversations, it became clear that his story and his passion for our rivers and lakes needed to be shared.
Meet Jim Blake, lifelong canoeing and kayaking enthusiast! When it comes to passion for rivers and lakes, we’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more passionate than Jim. He already has 47 paddling trips under his belt this year and will most likely exceed his all- time yearly high total of 123. Jim explains his love of paddling:
“I love the sound of moving water and the challenge and the rush that running the whitewater brings. Being a photographer, kayaking allows me to reach places I would otherwise not see. Paddling is food for the soul!”
Jim has been paddling all his life. He started out in canoes and has paddled the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness multiple times. “I like to go up there (BWCA) in the spring and fall. It’s just too busy in the summer.” Not surprising for a man who appreciates the solitude of remote rivers. In 1997, Jim purchased his first kayak, which has taken him down the Pike, Kettle, Temperance, Snake, Upper and Lower Tamarack and St. Louis rivers, just to name a few. One of his favorite trips is down the Kettle River, through Banning State Park.
For nine years now, Jim has not missed one month of paddling. Yes…he paddles all winter long. The coldest temperature he remembers paddling in was 20 below zero wind chill. “There’s a few folks that will occasionally paddle in the winter, but I’m solo most of the time; especially when the temps and wind chill are low.” He describes winter paddling as “sort of scary sometimes,” but is always careful to hike the river to assess danger before getting on the water. “There’s a spot on the Kettle where I have to be sure to drop a rope down about 50 feet over the cliff to the water so that I can grab it before I get caught under the ice ledge when I’m paddling.” When I asked him why he takes the risks in the winter, his response was very clear; “It’s just so beautiful in the winter. I see so much more wildlife too. The animals aren’t used to seeing people that time of year, so I get to paddle right under eagles perched on limbs over the river and see the deer standing at the water’s edge when I go by. It’s just such a beautiful experience.”
Jim is recently retired after eight years with the Anoka County Parks Department and 13 years with the University of Minnesota’s Landcare Department. Even when he was working full-time, he managed to do over 100 paddling trips in a year and has no intention of slowing down any time soon.