Red Wing Bucket List: Take a ride on a paddle boatIt’s a scene made famous by dozens of cowboy movies: a white boat floating down a river propelled by a large red paddle wheel. But the iconic paddle boat doesn’t exist just in movies.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
It’s a scene made famous by dozens of cowboy movies: a white boat floating down a river propelled by a large red paddle wheel. But the iconic paddle boat doesn’t exist just in movies.
Each year, as many as 10,000 people board the Pearl of the Lake for a cruise around Lake Pepin. The grand majority, Capt. Larry Nielson said, just want to experience that piece of America’s history for themselves.
“They say that they want to be on the Mississippi River,” Nielson said. “It’s just kind of what Americana’s all about.”
Nielson bought the Pearl of the Lake in 2006. As the owner of two hotels in Lake City, Nielson said he heard his guests constantly saying they wished there was a way for them to sail Lake Pepin.
Now, Pearl of the Lake tours run daily from about Memorial Day through October, though that schedule varies on the weather. Passengers board behind Willows on the River Resort on the north side of Lake City.
The entire tour lasts about 90 minutes. Every once in a while, Nielson comes on the radio to share some Lake Pepin history, detailing anything from how waterskiing was invented to sharing the myth of Pepie, the Lake Pepin monster.
Nielson said the boat and Lake Pepin bring in people from around the world.
Nielson remembers one day where, in the span of 15 minutes, he encountered three different groups of passengers — one from England, one from Toledo, Ohio and one from Tulsa, Okla. — who were all there for one simple reason: to experience the Mississippi River. In fact, the group from England even chose the river over seeing other famous American landmarks like the Statue of Liberty or the Grand Canyon.
“It was amazing,” Nielson said. “It’s always fun talking to people on board.”
Last week, Mike Zirbes, of Byron, Minn., was taking his 6-year-old grandson Harper Hauger for a ride on the lake. Zirbes said he’s taken the Pearl a couple times before, but it was Hauger’s first time.
“He likes it,” Zirbes said of his grandson. “He wants to get up in the cabin.”
Lucky for Hauger, that is actually encouraged. Nielson allows his passengers the chance to not only see the cabin, but also take a turn at the helm as well.
For Susan Hall, taking a tour on the Pearl was more than just a chance to see the boat itself; it was also the opportunity to see a part of her family history. Hall’s maiden name is Pepin, and the body of water was named after her ancestors.
“This was absolutely a must,” Hall said. “It is absolutely gorgeous.”
Hall and her sister-in-law Linda Pepin traveled from Seattle, Wash., for a birthday party in Michigan. Being as they were so close to Minnesota, they knew they had to stop.
“We’re thrilled to be on the lake,” Hall said.
“I wanted to see it forever,” Pepin added. “It’s beautiful.”
Fellow passenger Ann Fyles came all the way from England to take a ride on the Pearl.
“I’ve always wanted to see the Mississippi on a paddle boat,” Fyles said. She added that she’s not exactly sure how long she’s had that wish, but knew it had been a long time.
So, did the Pearl and the Mississippi live up to her expectations?
“Oh, yes,” she said. “And, I’ve had a go at steering the boat.”
For more information on the Pearl of the Lake, visit pearlofthelake.com. Other Mississippi River tours are available from Rusty’s River Rides (www.rustysriverrides.com) and Treasure Island Resort & Casino (www.treasureislandcasino.com).