ROSCOE VILLAGE — You don't build a 22,000-square-foot, $9.4 million boathouse and then go small on the grand opening celebration.
For the christening of the Chicago Park District's new WMS Boathouse at Richard Clark Park on Saturday, organizers are pulling out all the stops, including serving up a 65-footlong bratwurst, which approximates the length of a rowing shell.
"Rowtober" fest will mark the official debut of the highly anticipated Jeanne Gang-designed boathouse, the crown jewel in a string of four boathouses announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011.
In addition to the giant sausage, Rowtober will include tours of the boathouse, rowing demonstrations, exhibition races and bagpipers — the last as a tribute to the park's namesake, fallen police officer Richard Clark.
As the day of the big bash approached, crews were scrambling to finish work on the pair of structures — one building for boat and equipment storage, the other a training/fitness/community center.
A tour of the boat bay revealed that the Chicago Rowing Foundation and North Park University — tenants of the boathouse — had made themselves comfortable in their new home, with shells and oars in place. The foundation's four newest boats, purchased in anticipation of an increased interest in the sport, were still under wraps.
Over in the training center, the smell of paint was in the air, with the main entry freshly coated in a bright-orange pattern intended to mimic a boater's life vest. Water-themed decorative touches extend to the bathrooms, where tiles were chosen to reflect colors found in the Chicago River. Knots in the wood that abounds in both buildings were painted over with a boat-shaped design.
Once the boathouse opens, the foundation will manage all manner of rowing-related programming on behalf of the Park District, according to Betsy Trevarthen, community outreach program manager for the Foundation.
A former junior rower with the foundation (previously Lincoln Park Juniors), Trevarthen will be working out of the boathouse, coordinating training schedules for North Park and Foundation teams along with classes for the average Joe or Jane off the street.
"Off-water" fitness classes for community members — like "rowga" or yoga for rowers — will focus on exercising the muscles used in rowing, as well as teaching proper rowing machine technique, which employs far more use of legs than most people assume, according to Trevarthen.
"There's very little impact with rowing, but it's a great cardio workout," she said. "A little goes a long way."
"Learn to Row" classes will take advantage of one of the boathouse's most unique features: an indoor rowing tank that can accommodate as many as 16 rowers and is capable of creating waves and current.
"It's a way to get comfortable before you get in the water," Trevarthen said.
The tank is where the foundation will conduct its "Pauly's Pals" program, which will pair members of the organization's high school teams with kids on the autism spectrum as they learn to row.
The primary aim of the boathouse is to get people in boats cruising up and down the river. To that end, the foundation also will offer "on-water" classes held on the river with experienced rowing instructors, using the foundation's boats.
Class members would "be working and learning together," said Trevarthen. "Rowing is probably the ultimate team sport. In order to get a boat to move, you have to work together."
For those who discover a love of the sport, the foundation offers recreational and competitive masters teams for adults.
"We've got people in their 40s, 50s and 60s," said Trevarthen. "Most, if not all, of the masters rowers don't have a rowing history."
Sessions will be free during November and December to pique interest. Drop-in fees and membership options, still under development, will become available in January.
Trevarthen readily acknowledges that rowing has an elitist reputation. It's the foundation's mission to change that perception, she said.
"Our goal is to make rowing accessible to the City of Chicago."
Rowtober kicks off at 8 a.m. on Saturday with a greeting from Lane Tech's drum corps. Exhibition races start at 8:45 a.m., the ceremonial ribbon-cutting is scheduled for noon, and the gigantic bratwurst will be served at 12:30 p.m. Kayak rentals will be free from 12:30 - 2:30 p.m.