“You never know the consequences of a trip down the river,’’ said Paul Ryberg, a playful smile on his lips before revealing that was how he met his bride-to-be.
It was the trips that his parents made that have had tremendous consequences for all of us, starting with one well-publicized adventure. Clyde and Shirley Ryberg made a trip down the Minnesota River in 1957. Shirley told of their adventure in an article published in the Minnesota Conservation magazine.
It was the start of work by the Rybergs that eventually led to the creation of the state’s waterway system in 1963. The Minnesota, St. Croix, Big Fork and Little Fork Rivers were the first to be designated as boating and canoeing routes.
Today, there are over 4,500 miles of mapped routes on 32 rivers and the shoreline of Lake Superior. Minnesota can boast of having the state’s first and largest water trail system in the nation, according to Erik Wrede, who oversees the system with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Ryberg and Wrede told of the system’s start last Friday in Granite Falls, where they were on hand to observe a celebration its 50th anniversary. Clyde Ryberg sold the idea of canoe routes as an economic opportunity. Governor Karl Rolvaag repeated his admonition “to rouse this sleeping recreational giant, canoeing.’’
The waterways system mirrors the mission values of the DNR to promote outdoor recreation, conservation and economic development, noted Wrede.
It also helps us buck a nationwide trend. While most outdoor activities are on the decline across the country, paddle sports are seeing steady growth, particularly kayaking. Kayak registrations have increased by 56 percent in the last five years, according to Wrede. There are 180,000 canoes and kayaks registered in Minnesota.
Clyde and Shirley Ryberg devoted many years to promoting the opportunities we enjoy today, and they are recognized for it. Paul Ryberg, one of eight siblings, said his father would give the credit to all who paddle the waters. “He may have started something. You continue it when you take a paddle out on the river, whether it is a kayak or a canoe, when you take a friend out, every time you do that, you are continuing this,’’ said Ryberg.