SAINT PAUL – On expeditions to the farthest reaches of the earth, Ann Bancroft and Will Steger used the Internet to connect to students and allow them to witness and learn about all they discovered.
Another Minnesota explorer is doing the same, but introducing students to waters closer to home. Natalie Warren wants young people to learn about the watersheds in which they live, and perk their interest to get out and discover them as well.
This year Warren and her staff with the Wild River Academy are returning to the Minnesota River for the annual “Paddle Forward” expedition. Warren and a team of six to eight paddlers will launch their canoes in Big Stone Lake in late August and make their way to the confluence with the Mississippi River by October 9.
In between, they will visit communities along the river, learn about the area’s history, and examine our interactions with the environment by visiting farms, industries and popular recreational destinations. Each day’s adventure will be part of an on-line curriculum offering students a wide-range of lessons.
“We try to connect the dots,’’ said Warren of the lessons the annual “Paddle Forward’’ expeditions bring to students who join the adventure via the Internet. “Watersheds are so complex and it’s hard to understand when you’re not in them, to understand everything that impacts them.’’
Students at 65 schools participated in the Adventure Learning education model offered by the Wild River Academy’s first Paddle Forward Adventure, an epic run the length of the Mississippi River in 2013. Students at 45 schools in the Illinois River watershed followed and learned from the adventure on that state’s namesake river in 2014.
The return to the Minnesota River puts Warren on familiar waters indeed. Every summer, the Wild River Academy leads high school and college-age students on over-night trips along sections of the river.
And of course, Warren and friend and Ann Raiho made history in 2011 when they became the first women to replicate Eric Sevareid and Walter Port’s 2,000 mile paddle from Fort Snelling to Fort York on Hudson Bay, made famous in Sevareid’s account “Canoeing with the Cree.’’
The 2011 trip opened their eyes to the beauty of the Minnesota River Valley, and to the economic potential its recreational use offers communities along it, said Warren. She said students who have participated in Wild River Academy paddles on the river in the past two summers tell her that they thoroughly enjoyed the river and the challenge of their adventure.
Before the journey, many of those same students confess they knew very little about the river. Some have told her they grew up without even knowing how close it was to their homes.
Warren and Raiho got to know it very well: They paddled upstream against flood-level flows in 2011, managing 1.5 to sometimes 2 miles per hour in 2011.
The 2015 Paddle Forward crew will spend more time going downstream than Warren and Raiho took going upstream, but for good reason. The paddlers will be spending lots of time visiting all the sites along the way.
They are also hoping that residents along the river, elected officials and others will join them to paddle segments of the river.
Warren said they are currently in the process of lining up sites to visit, recruiting paddlers and working to get the word out about their trip to schools. Teachers can make the Paddle Forward trip a part of their curriculum by visiting their website and clicking on the tab for teachers.
She’s also hoping to hear from those along the route who may be interested in hosting the visitors for tours and provide places for them to pitch their tents. They are especially interested in sharing lessons about agriculture, industry, wildlife and recreational opportunities in the watershed.
Warren is also inviting everyone along the way to paddle along with the adventurers. For more information: http://paddle4ward.com/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org