New kayak-canoe-fishing access open in Mason City’s East Park on Winnebago River

MASON CITY — A ribbon cutting ceremony was held this morning for the new kayak-canoe-fishing access in Mason City’s East Park. Located adjacent to the deer pen, it allows access to the Winnebago River after the recent removal of a low-head dam.

Lime Creek Nature Center program manager Heather Hucka was one of the speakers at the event and says by removing and mitigating low-head dams, it rights a wrong that was done on the land as well as making the river safer for everyone. “Low-head dams when they were first introduced to the river systems, they were new technology, and they served purposes. As technology advances, the low-head dams lost their purpose and they were just left behind. As time passed, we realized the environmental impact that those low-head dams being a part of the river system was having. As outdoor recreation increased, we realized not only was it having a negative impact on the wildlife that lives in the river, but it was a safety issue as well for paddlers.”

Hucka says the new access is another recreation improvement to Mason City.   “It seems silly to think of a place like River City to not have an accessible river and celebrating our connection to the water and acknowledging that the water needs attention and care. It’s so important for us to acknowledge.”

Hucka says the access was well thought out for improving the river.  “I will say this is the first time I’ve come to this access since it was finished. I was so excited to see the thought that was put into it for all user groups, not just paddlers, not just fishers, and also there’s a side chute that is very much not for the human use, and that’s so good to see.”

That side chute is for fish, which Hucka says helps them navigate up and down the river.  “Fish when they are traveling up and down river, they can easily get down because they just fall over, but getting back up when the low-head dams are there, there’s this cyclical motion that basically is a door slammed closed. Having these natural rapids that allow the animals to use their own strength to get back up where they came from is why those need to exist.”

The new access joins a similar access upstream near the 12th Street Northeast bridge that was opened in July 2022.