This August, it’s all about the outdoors on In The Wings. We’re highlighting interesting and unique ways to enjoy Milwaukee’s urban landscape, and hopefully, introduce you to something new to do outside.
For our second story we’re getting out on Milwaukee’s rivers, exploring the system via kayak. And to get started, we turn to a local business helping people do just that.
Milwaukee Kayak Company opened along the Milwaukee River, under the ownership of longtime outdoor recreation enthusiast Beth Handle, five years ago. She had worked for an outdoor retailer in downtown Milwaukee, but after that business closed, she decided to open her own.
She says her business began as a tent along the river with about a dozen kayaks available for rent, and it has grown steadily since. Now, the business rents out canoes, paddle boards and tandem kayaks, in addition to its fleet of single-person kayaks.
But, even after that growth, Milwaukee Kayak still hasn’t lost its small business identity. Beth works alongside her staff, welcoming guests as they arrive and helping them to get comfortable on the water. And the whole business operates out of two colorfully painted shipping containers retrofitted as storage and office space.
More than a rental company
Milwaukee Kayak isn’t the only business that does kayak rentals in Milwaukee, but it is one of the only ones to offer guided tours of the river system. It was an intentional choice, Handle says, to include an element of discovery and exploration in the business.
“It’s all about education. I want to educate people on how far the river has come and what’s to come,” she says. “There’s just a whole different vibe on the river than anywhere else.”
“I really think it’s what connects us.”
Milwaukee Kayak works closely with Milwaukee County Historical Society to offer — you guessed it — historical tours along the waterways. In addition, the company highlights the work of nonprofit organizations advocating for the river, including Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Menomonee Valley Partners, Harbor district and many others.
It’s all about spreading the word about the positive things happening on the rivers, Handle says.
“We are truly advocates for the river. And we want to get people out on the river because then they start taking care of it,” she says. “Then their friends come, and they take care of it. It’s kind of a chain reaction.”
Click the player below to learn more about Milwaukee Kayak Co., and listen in as patrons prepare for a night ride along the Milwaukee River.
Downtown Moonlight Paddle (photos courtesy of kayaker Jim Endl)
For more about Milwaukee Kayak Co.’s events, visit its website.
Milwaukee Kayak, coincidentally, is an underwriting supporter of 88.9.