As Aquatennial traditions change, River Rats continue to wow crowds in Twin Cities

A once-popular Minneapolis tradition has appeared to have lost some steam over the years.

The mighty Mississippi is a part of who we are, a part of the Twin Cities. And for nearly 80 years, the Aquatennial has celebrated that identity.

"The city was born on the water,” said Meghan Gustafson of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. “I think that’s a really important piece of the aqua part of that. The river is a really important part to Minneapolis."

What started as a civic celebration has evolved over the course of the last 80 years – always taking place on the third week of July – but it’s no longer the 10-day celebration it once was.

"There’s a lot of dynamic events going on downtown, and we really wanted to focus on four days by the river, and make it the best four days of summer down by the river," Gustafson said.

Through its changes, there’s one thing that has stood the test of time: The Twin Cities River Rats.

"We like to say we're the best-kept secret in the Twin Cities,” said Alexa Ernst of the Twin Cities River Rats. "I think we’ve been around almost as long as Aquatennial has been around. For a very, very long time. It’s a great way for us to connect back with the community."

A community that year after year comes out to celebrate and to watch as performers ski, jump and even climb.

"You start on a guy’s shoulders, right off the main dock, they pull off and then you climb over,” explains Ernst, “and the girls on the higher levels – so third tier, fourth, some go up to five.”

How hard is that fall?

"Depends on where you’re falling from."

Ernst added that the group is on the river all summer, so "it just becomes a part of you, as much as you want it to as much as you don’t want it to. It’s a part of who we are."