Warm hearts cheer them on as they paddle from Gulf to Arctic Ocean

Six friends comprising the Rediscover North America expedition are, from left: Adam Trigg, Luke Kimmes, Dan Flynn, Winchell Delano, Jarrad Moore, and John Keaveny.

Six friends comprising the Rediscover North America expedition are, from left: Adam Trigg, Luke Kimmes, Dan Flynn, Winchell Delano, Jarrad Moore, and John Keaveny.

GRANITE FALLS — Doug Jans looked out the back window of his house on Sunday evening and knew immediately that something unusual was going on.

Six paddlers in three canoes were fighting the rapids of the Minnesota River, slicing their paddles into the churning water faster than a TV-chef dicing onions, and struggling to make their way upstream.

“Most are going down the rapids,’’ said Jans of the paddlers he usually watches from his home on the Minnesota River just one block from the community’s downtown.

Moments later, Jans was inviting the six young men to pitch their tents in his back yard and enjoy warm showers.

And only a couple of hours later, Mayor Dave Smiglewski treated the same crew at Jimmy’s Pizza, only one block upstream.

It’s been that way since they began paddling in the Gulf of Mexico on January 2 to make their way up the Mississippi River.  The six men who comprise the “Rediscover North America” expedition cannot say enough about the hospitality they’ve encountered along the length of the Mississippi River and now, the Minnesota River.

Adam Trigg lifts a pack as they prepare to move on from their backyard campsite in Granite Falls on Monday.

Adam Trigg lifts a pack as they prepare to move on from their backyard campsite in Granite Falls on Monday.

Jans was on the mark when he suspected the unusual here:  On what was day 107, these paddlers were a little more than one-third of the way on a more than 5,200 mile, nine-month expedition to reach the Arctic Ocean in northwest Canada. They have the Red River of the North, Lake Winnipeg, the Churchill River, and Great Slave Lake among other destinations yet to go.

Strong currents and winds, water that froze the instant it splashed on them, and a snowfall that basically shut down a Missouri town the moment they arrived have been just some of the adversities they’ve faced.

Yes, they’ve had their moments, said Adam Trigg. That’s where the hospitality comes into play and revives their morale. “Every time we are kind of down, we meet some people who are super psyched up about the trip,’’ said Trigg.

He is one of four St. Cloud natives comprising the team. Daniel Flynn, Winchell Delano, and John Keaveny are all graduates of St. Cloud Cathedral. They are joined by two Iowa natives: Luke Kimmes and Jarrad Moore.

Their ages are in the upper 20’s to 30. All of them have years of wilderness experience, ranging from rock climbing to lengthy paddling trips in the arctic. Five of the crew worked together at Second Nature, a wilderness retreat in Utah.

Delano mapped out much of the route. He once joined paddlers on a 2,600-mile canoe trip to cover Canada from west to east.

The others also like to point out that until recently, Delano was the only crew member who knew that their trip ahead includes a 12-mile portage connecting the Churchill and Clearwater River systems in Canada.

“You are going to some of the wildest of the wild,’’ said Tom Kalahar of Olivia, who met up with the group during their stop. He is an uncle to expedition member John Keaveny.

They are ready for what lies ahead. Talk at the pizza restaurant included discussions on how they plan to protect themselves against both bears and bugs.

What makes this trip different from others they’ve made is this: They are paddling portions of rivers with communities along the way, and encountering hospitality they had not expected, they said.

The idea for the route came over a few beverages almost two years ago.  They talked about going from the US-Canada border to the arctic. A friend of theirs had much such a trip once.  They wanted to better him.

Partly in jest, Trigg suggested they start in the Gulf of Mexico. “And Winchell (Delano) was like ‘dude, that is actually possible.’’’

Now they are on their way to proving it. Cold headwinds bore down on them as they departed Granite Falls on Monday morning with a goal of reaching Montevideo. They cover anywhere from 20 to 30 miles a day.

They’ve spent about $18,000 on the trip so far, with about $7,000 in expenses ahead. Donations from sponsors and contributors to a webpage have helped cover $14,000 of the expenses to date. Family members are serving as support teams.

They met family members during a lay-over and break they enjoyed more than a week ago in New Ulm. Family members will re-supply them at points along the way. The last re-supply near Great Slave Lake will require a one-way, 45-hour drive for the support team.

Their last leg will be to follow the Coppermine River to the Arctic. They hope to make it before freeze-up in October. They’ve arranged for a flight back to civilization once they reach their goal.

To learn about the team members and the expedition, and to track their progress, check out their webpage: http://www.rediscoverna.com/

Strong winds and temperatures in the 30's bore down on the paddlers as they launched their canoes on Monday above the dam on the Minnesota  River in Granite Falls.

Strong winds and temperatures in the 30’s bore down on the paddlers as they launched their canoes on Monday above the dam on the Minnesota River in Granite Falls.

 

Having seen the need, he’s made conservation his mission for 37 years

Tom Kalahar has retired from a 37-year career with the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District, but will continue to work on behalf of conservation in the area.

Tom Kalahar has retired from a 37-year career with the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District, but will continue to work on behalf of conservation in the area.

Hunting and fishing opportunities seemed endless in Otter Tail County, where Tom Kalahar grew up. The pursuit of game was a way of life in his family.

When he left home to start his own life he quickly came to discover just how natural resource-rich his home county was, and how abused and damaged landscapes elsewhere were.

“The real shock came when I drove to Olivia in the winter of 1979. The almost 100 percent conversion of the prairie and wetlands landscape left me profoundly stunned. I was moved to the realization that I personally had to do something to try and restore some of what we had lost. That has been my mission for the last 37 years,’’ Kalahar writes.

Kalahar was applauded this week on his retirement from his career with the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District. It’s where he’s worked with colleagues committed to that mission for those 37 years.

As those who came to celebrate his career made clear, he and the staff have done a great deal to make the county a better place. They’ve shown that room can be made for both conservation and the needs of modern agriculture on our landscape, and that our quality of life is better for it.

Kalahar offers a look at his own background and his work in conservation in his own words on the pages of the Outdoors page in the April 4 edition of the West Central Tribune. The accomplishment that he is most proud helps protect Renville County’s natural resource heritage for generations to come. There are over 17,000 acres enrolled in the Re-Invest in Minnesota Easement Program in the county.

Tom Kalahar led a tour of lawmakers and leaders in the state's conservation community to show how conservation and modern agriculture can share the landscape.

Tom Kalahar led a tour of lawmakers and leaders in the state’s conservation community to show how conservation and modern agriculture can share the landscape in Renville County.

The efforts for conservation and protecting our hunting and fishing heritage face major challenges. The demands on our land and water resources continue to grow. There are major economic and political forces to overcome no matter the conservation goal.

Yet today as always, the conservation success stories are made possible by those who have the passion to do what is right. Kalahar told those who joined to celebrate his retirement that you have to be crazy if you think you can change the system, so be crazy. He was among those who were told point blank in 1997 that they were crazy when they went to work on the perpetual easement program we now know as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Today there are 100,000 acres of CREP protected lands in the Minnesota River basin.

Kalahar promises that he will remain involved in the area’s conservation efforts. He’s not sure what form that will take, but is confident that work carried out by the county SWCD office remains in good hands.

 

Tom Kalahar (left) holds a sturgeon he caught on the Rainy River.

Tom Kalahar (left) holds a sturgeon he caught on the Rainy River.

Paddle Forward returning to Minnesota River in 2015

Natalie Warren and Ann Raiho discovered the Minnesota River in 2011 when they became the first women to recreate the 2,000 mile trip to Hudson Bay made famous in "Canoeing with the Cree.''

Natalie Warren and Ann Raiho discovered the Minnesota River in 2011 when they became the first women to recreate the 2,000 mile trip to Hudson Bay made famous in “Canoeing with the Cree.”

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.’’

A tipi at the Upper Sioux Agency State Park. The Paddle Forward crew will camp at this and other state parks along the river.

A tipi at the Upper Sioux Agency State Park. The Paddle Forward crew will camp at this and other state parks along the river.

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 paddle@wildriveracademy.com

 

The Paddle Forward crew pitched their tents under the stars during the Mississippi River adventure in 2013.

The Paddle Forward crew pitched their tents under the stars during the Mississippi River adventure in 2013.

 

Seeley on climate change: “It’s staring us right in the face”

 

The pace of climate change in Minnesota is greater than in some parts of the country. What it means for our lakes, prairie and northern forests are yet to be known.

The pace of climate change in Minnesota is greater than in some parts of the country. What it will mean for our lakes, prairie and northern forests is yet to be known, but today’s youth will likely know a different Minnesota.

WILLMAR — Climate change is not occurring all over the place at the same pace.

In Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, there’s not a lot going on and if anything, it might be slightly cooler, according to University of Minnesota Extension Climatologist Mark Seeley.

In Minnesota and the Great Lakes region, it’s a much different story.

In the last 10 years, Minnesota has broken 8,923 daily weather records. Southeast Minnesota saw three, 1,000-year flood events. In a five-month span in 2012, the St. Louis River at Duluth went from recording its highest flows ever to its very lowest.

Our minimum daily temperatures are rising.  We are seeing more extreme rain events, and an overall trend towards more precipitation. Our springs and autumns are trending warmer, but recent years show a mix of both cooler and warmer summers and winters.

All of which is to say: Climate change is happening. “It’s there in the data. It’s staring us right in the face,’’ said Seeley. He spoke Feb. 24 on the MinnWest Technology campus in Willmar during the annual meeting of the Hawk Creek Watershed Project.

We are still learning what it will mean for agriculture, our lakes, prairies and northern forests.

“You live in very challenging times. You are actually coping with a more variable climate than your predecessors did,’’ Seeley told his audience.

We've seen an increase in annual precipitation throughout the state. High water flows over Curtain Falls on the Minnesota-Canada border in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

We’ve seen an increase in annual precipitation throughout the state. High water flows over Curtain Falls on the Minnesota-Canada border in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

He warned his audience that it is the extreme that really affects us most of all. The extremes force us to alter our practices the most, he explained.

As we move into spring and the warmer months, consider this. Seeley said that recent research indicates that the atmospheric structural characteristics that are conducive to the formation of severe thunderstorms are increasing in our latitude.  We are approximating the same frequency for these conditions as Oklahoma and Kansas. “That’s a dangerous situation to be in,’’ he said.

Steve Molenaar captured this image of the tornado that struck Ivan and Della Underland's farm in July 2008.

Steve Molenaar captured this image of the tornado that struck Ivan and Della Underland’s farm in July 2008.

A passionate duck hunter voices concerns about possible early teal season

Roger Strand checks a wood duck nesting box on Stony Ridge farm in this file photo.

Roger Strand checks a wood duck nesting box on Stony Ridge farm in this file photo.

Minnesota is debating whether to follow the lead of neighboring states Wisconsin and

Iowa and offer an early teal duck hunting season.

The teal population is believed capable of supporting an increased harvest.  Supporters believe an early teal season is an opportunity to introduce more to waterfowl hunting and reverse the decline in the numbers of waterfowl hunters in the state.

One of this area’s most passionate waterfowl hunters is among those urging the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources not to establish an early teal season.

An early teal season might be popular, said Roger Strand of rural New London, but we risk harming our native duck populations by harvesting too many hens. A teal season in early to mid-September would occur when native hens and their broods would be harvested disproportionately in comparison to drakes. There are lots of banding studies that reveal that Minnesota hens and their broods are still around at the time, while the drakes are not as likely to be around, he explained.

Strand is a long-time member of the Wood Duck Society.  He recently stepped down after roughly 15 years as editor of its publication, the Wood Duck NewsGram.

He is especially concerned about the toll an early teal season might take on our native wood duck population.

He pointed out that Minnesota offered an early teal season in 1965.  The experience showed that most hunters had difficulty identifying ducks whizzing by in the low light conditions and with early season plumage. There were plenty of “mistake” ducks shot.

Rather than see hunters stomp mallards and wood ducks into the mud to avoid getting caught, neighboring states have allowed hunters to include one “mistake’’ duck in their daily bag during early teal seasons. Strand said the most likely candidate of all for a “mistake” duck is a native wood duck hen.

 

Minnesota has already liberalized its regular waterfowl regulations in recent years to allow a greater wood duck harvest. Last year’s bag limit allowed hunters to keep three wood duck hens, as compared to two mallard hens, he pointed out.

He believes we increased the wood duck limit without accurately knowing the wood duck population in the state. Wood ducks nest in tree cavities and are notoriously secretive; their populations are not as readily measured by the field surveys conducted to monitor mallard and other duck populations, he said.

The DNR has made a commitment to do more banding work to better know the state’s wood duck population, and that is commendable, said Strand. But we don’t have those results yet. By opening up more opportunities to harvest the birds – including as “mistake’’ birds – we could harm the population, he warns.

Blue-wing teal, mallard and Canada goose.

Mallard hen and drake and Canada goose.

Strand has been maintaining wood duck nesting boxes since he erected his first in 1956. He’s been documenting the individual birds and their nesting success for nearly as long at his Stony Ridge Farm near Sibley State Park. He knows that many of the hens return year after year to the same nesting boxes.

Our harvest should focus more on the drakes than the hens. We should protect our Minnesota breeding hens so they can continue to produce progeny, he argues.  “We’re talking about the same hen that produced 14 wood ducks this year. Why shoot her in the dark in an early opener?’’ he asked.

Strand is also member of the Concerned Duck Hunters, a group that has long advocated for a more conservative management of our waterfowl. Protecting our native nesting hens is critical to protecting our waterfowl populations.

Until recent years, Minnesota restricted the shooting hours on the opening of the regular waterfowl season. Hunters had to wait until 9 a.m. to shoot on the opening day, and could not shoot after 4 p.m. during the first two weeks of the season. The shooting hour restrictions were championed by Robert (Bob) Jessen all for one reason: To protect our native hens, said Strand.

We’ve done away with those protections, and have yet to do the banding work and science needed to really know its implications for our native wood ducks, said Strand. He and others believe the longer shooting hours during the start of the duck season mean we are harvesting a larger share of our native hens.  And now, we appear ready to risk harming our wood duck population further with an early teal season.

He hopes the Minnesota DNR continues to hold off on allowing an early teal season until we can learn more about our native nesting duck populations and more accurately determine what such a season might do to them.

“Why not error on the conservative side?’’ he asked.

Many worry that changes in regulations that have allowed longer shooting hours during the first two weeks of the season means we are harvesting more of our native hens.

Many worry that changes in regulations that have allowed longer shooting hours during the first two weeks of the season means we are harvesting more of our native hens.