Sailing into summer

Water cannons are a hit with kids on the shore. Credit: Linda Koutsky

Centennial Lakes Park
7499 France Ave. S., Edina

When Centennial Lakes Park was shoehorned in behind the busy shopping district on France Avenue I was skeptical it would ever be the tranquil place they touted. Turns out it was a great suburban planning feature that not only nearby residents love but is a draw for tourists, too.

The 24-acre park stretches along three blocks around a 10-acre lake. Paved trails meander around the lake and a miniature putting course. Kids splash on paddleboats and fish from bridges and shoreline peninsulas. Live performances are held in a lakeside amphitheater throughout summer. The place is an urban oasis amid Edina’s retail sea.

This hidden gem of a lake also contains more boats per square mile than any lake in the entire state of Minnesota. I haven’t verified that with Minnesota’s Tourism Board, but I’m certain Centennial Lakes reaches that milestone at least a few times a year. That’s because Centennial Lakes is home port for Edina Model Yacht Club — they fit a lot of boats on a lake!

Founded in 1991 by a group of model boat enthusiasts, members assemble models or build from scratch. If it floats on water they have it: speedboats, schooners, Chris Crafts, houseboats, military vessels and tugboats.

They’re powered by wind, batteries, or steam and operate by remote-control handsets. It frankly looks like way more fun than actual boating plus it’s less expensive and you don’t need insurance or a trailer!

Model sailboats come in all shapes and sizes — at least one sail was 6 feet tall. A club member told me the same rules of sailing a real boat apply to sailing a model boat. Boaters have to know how to read the wind because model sailboats don’t have motors that propel them forward — the wind moves them; their control devices only adjust the sail’s position. Thursday night sailing regattas take place on the north pond. 

Scale model boats can be a hobbyist’s dream. Any boat that exists today, in history, or in the imagination of the designer can become a scale model. The day I was at Centennial Lakes I saw reproductions of the African Queen, a Great Lakes ore boat, a Florida everglades airboat, and a paddle-wheel steamship complete with calliope music. The extreme amount of detail, painting, and materials used in some boats is similar to that of model trains. Builders also have a great sense of humor. One club member piloted his boat up to crowds of unsuspecting kids then sprayed them with onboard water cannons. Another vintage-style mahogany runabout boat pulled an actual miniature water skier! A 30-year-old guy next to me said: “You’d never get tired of watching that!”

Members swap parts, sell boats, and help each other with electrical and technical problems. Joining the club is a great way to get into having your own boat. Start small — then who knows, maybe you’ll stay small. I know I’d like to have one.

• Open boating Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings (afternoon to dusk)

• Lighthouse Night, an evening showcase for boats with cabin, cockpit, navigation, and running lights, (Sunday, Aug. 10, starts at sundown, boating begins at 8:30, John Philip Sousa Band performs 

PARKING TIP: Centennial Lakes Park is hidden behind and below the shopping area anchored by Whole Foods. Turn onto Plaza Drive from France Avenue and drive straight in toward the Clubhouse. More parking’s underneath the surface lots for people in-the-know.

LUNCH BREAK: For a fresh and quick salad bar restaurant stop in Q. Cumbers, overlooking the park (7465 France Avenue South)

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