On weekend mornings while it’s still dark, Elizabeth Edwards has Zorinsky Lake to herself.
So she slips into her bright pink kayak and paddles through the calm waters to watch the sunrise.
“It’s peaceful ... It gives you time to yourself, out with nature,” the 30-year-old Omahan said.
Edwards is part of a small but growing group of kayakers across the state.
Some are families, experimenting with kayaking during a vacation. Some are solo solitude seekers. Others take to the lakes and rivers during adventure group outings.
You can spot a handful of kayakers on Nebraska’s waterways every weekend. That wasn’t the case 10 years ago, or even five.
Joel Bauch, the assistant director of the University of Nebraska at Omaha outdoor adventure center, said kayak rentals are up. Most of UNO’s 12 boats, as Bauch calls them, are reserved most weekends.
The university also offers kayaking workshops at Cunningham Lake a few times during the summer. The workshops fill up quickly — and during the outings, they’re not the only kayakers on the water.
“This is one of the first years that I’ve noticed a lot of people are coming to the boat launch area and taking a lot of kayaks out,” he said.
Floating activities, including kayaking, are expected to grow between 30 and 60 percent in the next 50 years, according to a 2010 outdoor recreation trends assessment conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. It’s already a feature attraction at some Nebraska state parks.
Kayaking is particularly popular at Fort Robinson State Park in northwest Nebraska.
“It’s not 100 percent full all summer, but it’s busy,” Park Superintendent Michael Morava said.
Kayaking is a staple at Ponca State Park, too, said Jennifer Wolff, the assistant superintendent there.
The park, roughly two hours north of Omaha, offers classes every weekend and a couple during the week, depending on the demand.
They fill up quite often, she said.
“There’s times we have to add an additional kayaking class if we can,” Wolff said.
The appeal is simple: “When it’s hot, people want to be near water and get wet.”
And it’s cheap entertainment, she added. Each class is $8 per person.
Their kayaking season starts during Memorial Day weekend and lasts through Labor Day.
UNO’s Bauch suspects kayaking is increasingly popular because it fills a variety of needs.
“Some people are out there because they want to be on the water — they find that relaxing,” he said. “Some people are out there for fitness. Some people are out there to view nature from a different perspective.”
If you’re Edwards, it’s all three.
She loves being outside on the lake, and paddling strengthens her core and upper body. When Edwards discovered kayaking in 2004, she was specifically looking for an activity that kept her off her feet.
“I’m a dance teacher (at Omaha Ballroom), and I’m on my legs all day long,” she said. “(Kayaking) works your arms, and I don’t have to do anything with my legs. That was my thing: What can I do outside that’s not biking or running?”
“It’s just something different. It’s a nice way to get low-impact exercise and explore the lake.”