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Captain of the 'floatilla'

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Lisa Schuchard double checks to make sure everyone had a life jackets before heading out on the Zumbro River from Hammond to Millville Saturday. She has opened Zumbro River Ratz canoe/kayak/tube rentals out of her Millville home.

MILLVILLE — When the Zumbro River's flow pulls her kayak into its power, Lisa Schuchard is free.

That's the paradox of moving water: when you willingly surrender yourself to it and let it drift you past bluffs, eagles and deer, you feel great.

Schuchard has felt that flowing freedom for nearly 40 years, savoring the hundreds of times her canoe or kayak paddle has moved her on her beloved river. This year, she has taken another stroke forward by starting Zumbro River Ratz from the garage of her Millville home, a few blocks from the river. She rents canoes, sit-on-top kayaks and big inner tubes so others get a chance to feel that freedom.

Those in the Rochester area "don't realize that 20 minutes away, we have paradise," she said.

She had been thinking about it for a while. When she lost her job in fall, she again took to the Zumbro to enjoy it when the thought hit her: It's time.

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"I just love it," she said. "I'm one of those people who always has to be busy, always has to be doing something. The river is the only place where I can relax."

It would be a new job for her, and it also would help the local economy that the Zumbro smashed in a record flood in September.

That's part of another paradox: While the flood brought destruction, it has also has brought some benefits. Some businesses and homes that were in tough shape have been replaced by new ones, and the flood scoured logs and trees from the river so the main channel is nearly free of dead-heads, sawyers and other dangers.

If Schuchard can grow the business, the second on the river in the area behind the granddaddy Zumbro Valley Canoe Rental in Zumbro Falls, she plans to hire local teens. Right now, her help is her husband, Don Schuchard and her grandson, Mason Holt, 9, of Red Wing.

"He's a natural-born river rat," said grandma.

More people to Millville means more money being spent on food. Schuchard buys her tubes from Appel's Tire Service across the river in Millville. Keep it local, she said, help the area's economy and introduce more people to the river. She also sells a kayak line.

Last weekend was her first big one and she was busy, and learning. Schuchard had never done something like that and each group brought a challenge, such as more or fewer people showing up than planned.

She went with the flow, found more kayaks or ways to get them to the Zumbro and was thinking of going to Appel's for more tubes when more people showed up.

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A large group from Stewartville showed up. Most already wore swimsuits and had collapsible lounge chairs to put in canoes to lounge down the river. It took time and coordination of who was going where. Finally, they were all at the entry point in Hammond so they could float down to Millville.

Schuchard got everyone in the right canoe or tube, and she watched them drift away. Another group was about to get a brief lesson in letting the Zumbro's power pull them to freedom.

"Have fun, take your time," she called out.

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