Feeling the sunshine on your skin, the breeze in your hair and the sound of water splashing against a boat is something every Minnesotan treasures during the short summer season. White Bear Lake wanted to give this experience to seniors, as well. “It’s wonderful for our community and a way to get people on the lake,” board member and fundraising chair Peggy Black says. “It serves so many people, and it’s not only for people in our area.”
Bear Boating began several years ago after board member Bob Hartzell worked with an organization called Let’s Go Fishing to begin the program. “He was willing to purchase the pontoon boat and start up this organization on White Bear,” Black says. Over the years, they decided to separate from Let's Go Fishing, and Bear Boating has continued providing to seniors independently for four years.
Bear Boating’s primary service is to get seniors out on the lake to enjoy a beautiful summer day. The experience is completely free for seniors, veterans, active duty family members and some civic organizations that involve seniors.
They offer two different kinds of boat rides. One is a relaxing ride on White Bear Lake, enjoying the scenery and learning from the captain. “Our captains know sights to see on the lake and know where the eagles’ nests are,” Black says. “They know the history of White Bear Lake—so they can do a little running narration about it.” They also offer fishing excursions for the passengers and provide all the gear, including fishing poles and bait. “The volunteers help them get their fish off the hook,” Black says. They generally practice catch and release, but Black says if they want to keep their fish, they are more than welcome to do so. They use a special boat called a tritoon, which has three pontoons, can fit up to 15 people, and has a ramp that makes it easier for wheelchair users.
Bear Boating is kept afloat by donations. They raise money on their website and throw a fundraiser every March that allows them to buy gas, insurance and the tools to train over 70 volunteers. Each volunteer goes through extensive training, including a classroom training, where they learn about safety precautions, how to communicate with the passengers and more. They then go through on-the-boat training, which teaches them how to work the pontoon and create a safe environment for the passengers.
The good Bear Boating does is something that touches many people in the White Bear Lake area, and gives the opportunity to brighten many people's day. “We just have such tremendous support,” Black says. “Everybody is really enthusiastic about this program.”
Bear Boating runs from May to September. To sign up for a time slot, visit:bearboating.org