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E. coli in Bde Maka Ska forces milk carton boat race into unfamiliar territory: land

Minneapolis beaches have been shuttered due to high levels of bacteria – most likely from stormwater runoff and the poop of waterfowl.

Minneapolis beaches have been shuttered due to high levels of bacteria – most likely from stormwater runoff and the poop of waterfowl. Monica Herndon, Star Tribune

Nothing crashes a party quite like E. coli.

Last Sunday, the annual Twin Cities Beach Blast was supposed to host its milk carton boat race in the waters of Bde Maka Ska. It’s been a beloved Minneapolis tradition since 1971.

But last week, Beach Blast organizers shared a sad announcement. Thanks to poor water quality at Thomas Beach, no one and no cardboard contraption would be allowed in the lake.

“We are saddened to be out of the water, but safety comes first,” Executive Director Charlie Casserly said. The group worked with Minneapolis Parks and Recreation to find an alternative site, but nothing was available. They were all, as Casserly told KSTP, “Too busy, too booked, or too small.”

Or too infectious.

E. coli has hit Minneapolis hard this year. On top of Thomas Beach, Bde Maka Ska’s North and 32nd Street beacheas, plus Lake Hiawatha Beach, were shuttered for higher-than-advisable levels of bacteria this season—most likely the result of stormwater runoff and the combined poop of waterfowl. The beaches wouldn’t be re-sampled—much less reopened—until Monday.

“This has never happened before,” Casserly says.

But the Beach Blast didn't give up. Organizers announced that the race would go on as planned… on land.

“Instead of paddling in the water, participants will portage (or carry) their boats on land for a short distance to win a speed prize,” a Facebook announcement explained. Beach Blast posted a video of an extreme portaging competition that took place in Minneapolis last year to emphasize its point.

“Who says we can’t?” the post read. “Minnesotans portage boats all the time.”

Sunday came with sunny skies and mild temperatures. Casserly and others had 10 boats pre-made in case anyone wanted to try them out, but they were hopeful some attendees would still bring their homemade crafts. To their collective dismay, not a single one did.

“Either they didn’t make them at all, or they didn’t want to carry them,” Casserly says. The cardboard boat race is mostly about the joy of catastrophe. It’s about sky-high ambitions meeting with flimsy building materials. Without the water, it's just another hot day in Minneapolis.

It wasn’t a total bust. Casserly says 36 participants used the 10 pre-made boats for the portage races. The Facebook page is full of snapshots of families grinning as they run along wearing life jackets they didn’t need, and winners beaming over their gold medals. Even without the water, people still had fun.

“We made a lot of lemonade out of all the lemons we got,” Casserly says. “We tried.”

His eyes are already fixed on next year. He hopes he can secure another beach in the city, or maybe this whole E. coli problem can be sorted out by then.