Rowing championship returns to Lake Elmo

Pictured are members of the 1876 Stillwater Rowing Crew. (Courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)

Lake continues tradition of hosting competitive regattas

The still water of Lake Elmo will play host to the North West International Rowing Association (NWIRA) 114th annual championship regatta Aug. 11-12. Fifteen rowing clubs from across Minnesota — as well as teams from Seattle and Omaha, from Wisconsin and from Ontario and Manitoba, Canada — will send about 420 athletes ranging in age from 14 to mid-70s for this year’s competition, said NWIRA secretary Charlie Stockwell.

“There will be 52 events over the two day period,” Stockwell said. “This is the fourth year that Lake Elmo has hosted the regatta; the last years were 1976, 2009 and 2013.”

The regatta is sanctioned by US Rowing and hosted by the Minnesota Boat Club. Teams start to enter the water around 7 a.m. on both Aug. 11 and 12.

Rowing, also known as crew in the U.S., is a single or team sport with athletes rowing a lightweight boat called a shell.

Lake Elmo has a history of hosting rowing events. Members of Lake Elmo’s Cimarron Rowing Club spoke at the July 18 Lake Elmo City Council meeting about the history of rowing on the lake and the upcoming regatta.

“Lake Elmo has always been considered one of the best still water rowing courses in Minnesota,” said Sarah Risser, a member of Lake Elmo’s Cimarron Rowing Club. “Boat clubs first hosted regattas here in the mid-1880s.”

In 1885, the first multi-club regatta was held on Lake Elmo.

“It was actually instigated by Stillwater, who had a small club, who invited two additional clubs who met here in Lake Elmo,” Risser said.

According to the Aug. 25, 1885, Stillwater Daily Gazette, a team from the Stillwater rowing club competed against the Minnesota Club from St. Paul and the Lurline club from Minneapolis in a mile-long race.

According to the Gazette, “the 3:40 p.m. train going to Lake Elmo yesterday was crowded with people who were going to the lake for the purpose of seeing the aquatic sports. The crowd at the lake probably numbers 1,500 people.”

Two years later, in 1857, the St. Paul Boat Club chose Lake Elmo as the site of its first annual regatta.

“It was so much more than a regatta — it was the main social event of the summer,” Risser said. “It was attended by the St. Paul Boat Club, the Minnesota Boat Club … and also Winnipeg came down and raced.”

In 1967, the Minnesota Boat Club held its 11th Annual Labor Day Regatta at Lake Elmo. It was the first time women entered the fray as competitive rowers in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, Risser said, with four teams of women — from the Duluth Rowing Club, the Minneapolis Rowing Club, the Minnesota Boat Club and the Milwaukee Rowing Club — lined up to race in fours and eights.

Lake Elmo resident Martin Hyndman is one of the founders of the Cimarron Rowing Club and will be competing in the regatta. Hyndman has registered under the Lea Rowing Club of London, England — his “home club.”

“I am incredibly fortunate to have access to Lake Elmo and I use it most mornings, weather permitting,” Hyndman said. “Lake Elmo has an incredible history of supporting rowing in Minnesota that goes back over 120 years.”

The trophy at stake during this weekend’s races in Lake Elmo.

Lori Meyers, a staff member at the Lake Elmo Park Reserve, said there will be limited viewing area for spectators at the events.

“It’s hit and miss, but there is some viewing on the paved trail heading toward the fishing pier and you will be able to see the racing start from the fishing pier,” Meyers said.

Stockwell said the best viewing would be if you could ask a neighbor living on Lake Elmo if they would allow viewing from his or her yard.

“You would have a good friend if they gave you permission to watch from their yard,” Stockwell said.

The Lake Elmo Park Reserve’s boat launch will be closed to public use from Friday, Aug. 11, through Saturday, Aug. 12, for event. No admission will be charged to watch the event, but attendees will need to purchase a vehicle parking permit if they choose to view the events from the Lake Elmo Park Reserve ($7 for a day pass). The Lake Elmo Park Reserve is located at 1515 Keats Ave. N.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]