WORTHINGTON — Thanks to the Lake Okabena Improvement Association (LOIA), there are new outdoor recreational opportunities to enjoy in town this summer.

A $20,000 gift from the LOIA has made possible the purchase of kayaks, canoes and paddle boards, along with life jackets and paddles. The watercraft can now be rented at The Beach Nook, which recently reopened in its brand new building inside Centennial Park.

“More than anything, we knew with the new Beach Nook building, we were going to have the space for this,” LOIA President Jason Vote said of the rental items. “This process really comes from the Beach Bash, which we’ve been investing in every year for five years. We’ve raised $40,500 in the five Beach Bashes they’ve had, and we’re investing about half of those funds in this equipment.”

The effort to offer watercraft rentals is thanks to a collaboration between the LOIA, city of Worthington and The Beach Nook.

“This is something that came about through our planning process,” said Worthington Director of Public Works Todd Wietzema, referring to what amenities could be offered at a new and larger Beach Nook building. “We’ve all worked on it together … and without the cooperation of these two girls, we wouldn’t be able to make this happen.”

The “two girls” are Faith and Autumn Arnt, who operate The Beach Nook as part of a contractual agreement with the city. The sisters are much busier as a result of the watercraft rentals, but it’s a good kind of busy.

“It’s been crazy,” said Autumn, who will be a junior at Iowa State University in the fall and is spending her summer helping her younger sister run the business. “It’s like non-stop renting.”

“There are more customers … and we’ve gone through a lot of ice cream already,” added Faith, an incoming Worthington High School senior who also sells hot dogs, burgers, nachos and an assortment of drinks and sweets. “We’ve hired two others just to help with the rentals.”

“The Beach Nook has been so gracious to help us with this,” Wietzema lauded.

The watercraft may be rented anytime during The Beach Nook’s hours, which are noon to 9 p.m. daily. No reservations are accepted, but people will be put on a waiting list in the event a canoe, kayak or paddleboard isn’t available.

The following rules are in place: watercraft rental fees are due at the time of use; life jackets must be worn at all times with no exceptions; watercraft may be rented to individuals ages 16 and older; individuals ages 12-15 may rent a stand-up paddleboard or single kayak if accompanied by a parent or guardian age 16 or older in an adjacent watercraft; a driver’s license or photo ID for deposit is required; all participants must sign a waiver to use the watercraft; individuals under the age of 16 must have a waiver signed by an adult/guardian; animals are not allowed on watercraft rental equipment; the number of people within the watercraft may not exceed the standard for that craft; persons may not jump out of the boat, overturn or deliberately swamp craft when in use; and no docking, landing or beaching of craft at any point other than The Beach Nook building or beach.

There will be no warnings for violations. People not following the rules and regulations will be asked to leave and forfeit their remaining rental time.

Rates for the watercraft are $5 per hour for a three-person canoe; $6 per hour for an individual kayak; $8 per hour for a double kayak; and $8 per hour for a one-person paddle board.

Purchases for summer rentals included two canoes, eight paddle boards, two double kayaks and six individual kayaks, along with 42 locally bought life jackets. There’s also roughly $4,000 remaining from the LOIA’s gift that will be set aside for the purchase of new or replacement equipment, as needed.

In addition to the rules and safety measures involving the watercraft rentals, the LOIA is mindful of an additional matter.

“We have people out in the lake we didn’t have before,” said Debra Weg, the LOIA’s vice president. “We want boaters to pay attention.”

The LOIA formed in May 2006 and currently has about 100 members. Another visible result of money it has raised through the Radio Works Beach Bash is the new floating dock it purchased for Worthington’s Sunset Park.

Membership is $30 and open to anyone interested in supporting the lake. For more information and to join, contact the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce at 372-2919.