BEMIDJI -- In the northern heart of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Bemidji’s waterfront is budding with opportunity during the summer months. That rings true once again at one of the town’s premier stops along the shore.

Bemidji State University’s Outdoor Program Center, located along Diamond Point Park’s southern waterfront, officially reopened its doors for the season last week. In turn, beachgoers have been able to dive back into lake life.

“We’ve had some busy, busy days, where a lot of people come,” said Mark Morrissey, who runs the OPC as BSU’s assistant director of campus recreation. “They’re just grateful to do something with their family, take out a canoe. We’ve had a lot of kayakers, and people from out of town come and use our paddle boards. … It’s good to get started again.”

The OPC delayed its opening due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Morrissey said that the boathouse’s outdoor setting provided a good opportunity to return before most other campus facilities.

“We thought we could get going and manage really safely with an outdoor setting,” he said. “The waterfront was the most appropriate, and probably the safest, low-risk environment to do rentals. … We’re basically in an open-air setting, so it’s been easy for us to do.”

The Outdoor Program Center’s boathouse opened on July 1 and rents out bikes, kayaks, paddle boards and more. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
The Outdoor Program Center’s boathouse opened on July 1 and rents out bikes, kayaks, paddle boards and more. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

The center isn’t operating at full steam just yet, as group activities and instructional classes such as swimming currently aren’t offered. Ongoing plans to do so are still in the development stage, but for the time being, students and the public alike can rent the watercraft of their choosing. The OPC offers rentals on canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, bicycles and sailboats, among others, to individuals and families.

“The whole community is kind of built around outdoor rec,” Morrissey said. “When you get down to it, whether it’s fishing, sailing regattas or canoeing, swimming or using our beaches, it’s really emblematic of how we do stuff up here. I’m happy to see boats out on the water again.”

As for safety measures, the center is adhering to Minnesota Department of Health guidelines. According to the BSU website, staff members are screened daily and will wear masks when assisting customers. Touchless payment and pickup is available over the phone (while in-person payments via cash, check or credit card are still available, as well). Paddles and bikes are cleaned after every use, while watercrafts and lifejackets are cleaned daily.

The boathouse is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, while the Diamond Point bathrooms and drinking fountains are closed. Porta-potties are located in the park. The OPC is requesting the public also follow social distancing guidelines.

This year looks different than most, with a few more hoops to jump through and surfaces to wipe down. Even so, the waves are welcoming, the sun shining and the lake beckoning.

“It’s been good to get going,” Morrissey said.