So you’re an Austinite. You’ve seen the bats. You’ve seen live music. You’ve canoed Lady Bird Lake. But chances are you’ve never canoed under the emerging bats while listening to a floating band. Thanks to the Moonlight Float, you can. And support a good cause while you’re at it.
The Texas River School is a nonprofit that takes at-risk kids for adventures on the water. As their mission statement explains, the River School uses rivers as classrooms to teach and reinforce traditional academic subjects; introduces important personal growth initiatives such as leadership, self-discipline and civic responsibility; and fosters a life-long connection to and affection for Texas waterways. Their founder, Joe Kendall, works with local schools to bring students on trips where they canoe, snorkel, camp, swim and learn about the importance of water in Central Texas. For many of these children, it’s their first and only hands-on experience with nature on the river and brings home the connection between wildlife, water conservation and its impact on our whole community. We all know water will be an increasingly difficult issue in the future. The River School is working hard to make sure this generation of kids appreciates and protects that resource.
The Moonlight Float raises funds for The Texas River School each month, spring through summer, on the Saturday closest to the full moon. My whole family looks forward to the event. The bands enjoy it too. As Jamie Stubblefield (from Out of the Blue) says, “It’s one of our favorite gigs of the year.” It really is a bit magical, and makes our Texas summers easier to bear.
Here is how the evening goes: Arrive at the Texas Rowing Center at 6:30. Sign in with Joe, Linda or Captain Spider and make your donation to the school ($15 per adult, $10 per child). Head to the dock for a quick paddling lesson, then hop in a canoe or kayak. (You can reserve one or bring your own craft.) The band raft launches at 7:00pm. Follow it, paddling and listening to live music, all the way to the Congress Ave bridge. Watch the amazing bats, wave to the folks on the bridge, have a snack, and admire the city at sunset. Paddle home in the dark while listening to the band and watching the lights of downtown. Arrive back at the dock around 9:30pm.
The Moonlight Float would make a great date-night, but it’s also really fun for kids. You’ll have to decide if your particular child can stay up a little late and stay on the water for that long. We waited until my extremely active daughter could sit still for longer than 30 seconds and refrain from launching herself out of the canoe. For her that was almost four. My much more restrained son was perfectly willing to sit quietly and enjoy the ride at around 2 years old. If you think your kids are ready, here are bits of advice we’ve accumulated over the years:
What to wear:
Cool, comfortable clothes & something you don’t mind getting a little splashed or sweaty
Life jacket: it’s the law for children, the Rowing Center has some for older kids, but bring your own for the little ones
At least two adults to row, if you’re in a canoe
Snacks and beverages of your choice
A dry bag to store your camera, phone, keys, etc.
Glowsticks or bracelets
Child-sized camp or folding chairs for the kids to sit in the middle of the canoe (this, and snacks, may be the most important factor in avoiding a mid-river meltdown)
Willingness to enjoy the journey
There is a port-a-potty near the entrance to the Rowing Center, but once those boats launch, that’s it. So we’ve learned to insist that our kids make a last-minute pit-stop.
Paddling back is technically upstream, so don’t expend all your energy on the first half.
As is true for any activity in the great outdoors, things happen. A headwind can come up, making paddling harder than usual. The bats can decide to stay in for the evening. A toddler can make it clear she’s had enough and insist on returning. This year, the band raft motor died while fighting the underwater milfoil weeds and they had to watch the event from a bit further away. That’s not to say the evening is ruined by these unexpected events; in fact, any challenges we’ve had during our Moonlight Floats made the experience even more memorable.
The next float, possibly the last of the year, is scheduled for September 21st. (There is one scheduled for October, but the weather is less reliable in that month.) Please contact the River School to reserve a canoe or kayak before the event. This is a perfect way, during the long Texas summer, to remind us of what we love about Austin and give back to the community at the same time. See you on the river!
Cheris Lifford is originally from the Northwest, but went to university in upstate New York. She taught ESL at home and abroad before settling down in Austin with her musician husband. Two kids and over 10 years later she is still involved in dual language education, writing, gardening, and researching how to travel the world with her family.