Jen Huffman, a member of the North Cascades Crew, trains Sunday morning on Lake Stevens.

Rowing club raising money to build a boathouse at Lake Stevens

LAKE STEVENS — For Jen Huffman, there’s nothing like being out on the water on a serene morning. She rows with North Cascades Crew, a Lake Stevens nonprofit that practices on the lake several times a week.

Huffman and others in the experienced group are up early Sunday mornings, their oars cutting through the water shortly after 6 a.m.

Huffman is carrying on a family legacy as the granddaughter of Joe Rantz, who rowed on the 1936 U.S. Olympic crew from the University of Washington. The underdog athletes shocked the world with a come-from-behind victory over the favored Italian and German teams. They won Olympic gold while Chancellor Adolf Hitler watched, cheering for the German crew. Rantz is the central figure of the bestselling 2013 book “The Boys in the Boat,” which tells the U.S. team’s story.

Volunteers with North Cascades Crew are raising money to build the Joe Rantz Boathouse at Wyatt Park in Lake Stevens.

“Both my parents and I felt it would be really neat to have something like this named after my grandpa,” Huffman said. “I think he would have been proud of the club and what we’re trying to do.”

The nonprofit started planning to build a boathouse about three years ago, said Anne Simnowitz, a rower and the club’s facilities chairwoman.

“We realized that in order to keep our mission strong and keep going, we needed a spot,” Simnowitz said. “We need a boathouse.”

The project kicked off in earnest last year with a fundraising event where Daniel James Brown, author of “The Boys in the Boat,” and Rantz’s family spoke to guests and showed memorabilia from Rantz’s time with UW crew.

The goal is to raise $40,000 for the first phase of the boathouse, a shell to store boats and equipment. Donations now are being taken online at tinyurl.com/ncc-boathouse.

“The elements are very hard on the boats,” Huffman said. “They age so much more quickly outside.”

Volunteers hope to start work in July or August, depending on how fundraising goes, said Jaci McIsaac. She and her husband row with the club and she’s coordinating plans for the boathouse.

The second half of the project is expected to cost another $40,000 to $60,000, which means the club needs up to $100,000 altogether. That includes wiring, plumbing, insulation and concrete floors, McIsaac said.

“The plan is to build with recycled materials and sustainable materials as much as possible,” she said.

Designs call for an office for park workers, kiosks with information about the lake and a large area for meetings and indoor workouts.

North Cascades Crew started eight years ago. The club hosts “learn to row” classes for novices and training sessions for competitive athletes.

“We have 11-year-olds and rowers in their ’60s,” Simnowitz said. “The focus of the club is education of the community on health, ecology and diversity.”

They work with the Snohomish Conservation District on caring for the lake and train junior rowers to test water quality. Volunteers hope to plant a rain garden at North Cove Park.

There are 30 adults in the club and 15 kids and teens. Many people assume rowing is an inaccessible sport, but it can be a good fit for just about anyone, Simnowitz said.

“There’s nothing that beats being out there in the morning,” Huffman said. “There’s eagles and fish are jumping and the sun rises over the mountains.”

Huffman has competed around the country, winning at regional regattas and taking fourth place at the 2015 Head of the Charles Regatta, the largest rowing competition in the country. She’s rowed with her daughter and son. Her mom learned so they could row as a three-generation crew.

Huffman’s family and her friends in the club are honoring Rantz’s memory. He never lost his love of crew. His UW team got together every few years for a row. Their last one was in 1986, the 50th anniversary of their victory. Rantz died in 2007.

North Cascades Crew is a welcoming place for people who have never tried rowing and an outlet for longtime lovers of the sport. Huffman thinks her grandpa would have appreciated that.

“Most people, when they get out there and try it, they realize it’s really an intriguing sport,” Huffman said. “You always learn something new.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

To learn more about North Cascades Crew or join the group, go to northcascadescrew.com or email info@northcascadescrew.com.

Members of the North Cascade Crew train Sunday morning on Lake Stevens. The crew is a nonprofit rowing group raising money to build a boathouse on the lake in memory of Joe Rantz, the central figure of the “The Boys in the Boat” and a member of the underdog UW crew that came from behind in the 1936 Olympics to win a gold medal.

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