Memorial Union Canoes

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Renting a canoe is a bargain for a little piece of serenity during a hectic semester or a chance to explore campus during the less stressful summer months.

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Students who don’t know port from starboard might think they have no means to truly experience the waters of Lake Mendota, short of training with the rowing team, learning how to sail, or doing a cannonball off of a Union pier. But there’s a decidedly more low-key option available that rivals an afternoon on the Memorial Union Terrace when it comes to unadulterated relaxation and a beautiful view on a warm day in Madison.

For just $8.75 an hour, students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors can float and paddle in a canoe rented from the Memorial Union’s outdoor-rentals boathouse. That’s a bargain for a little piece of serenity during a hectic semester or a chance to explore campus during the less stressful summer months. Sure, it’s harder to pretend that you’re studying while manning a canoe — and the brat stand isn’t steps away — but the view more than makes up for those sacrifices.

It’s more of an adventure for some canoe renters. Most of them have little or no experience, so staff members put the focus on safety before anyone hits the water in one of the two dozen seventeen-foot Grumman aluminum canoes kept by the boathouse. Some first-timers get hooked and go on to join the Hoofers Outing Club, making what might be one of campus’s best-kept secrets into a regular pastime.

No statistics are available on the number of capsizes. But the remarkably sturdy canoes — many of which have been rented out for nearly thirty-five years — have held up well over the decades, with only some minor seam and seat damage.

One exception: several years ago, customers who rented a boat and decided to take it down the Wolf River ended up wrapping the canoe around a rock, where it apparently remained for a number of years. This incident resulted in a change in rental policies, to wit: rental canoes are no longer allowed to leave Lake Mendota.

What’s your favorite UW tradition?
Tell On Wisconsin about it at onwisconsin@uwalumni.com, and we’ll find out if it’s just a fond memory — or if it’s still part of campus life today.

Published in the Summer 2009 issue

Tags: Campus history, Student life, Students

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