University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Working Our Way Downstream

March 4, 2014Reba JuettenEventsComments Off on Working Our Way Downstream

I have dreamed about hiking the Appalachian Trail for many years—there’s even a map of it hung on my wall where I’ll see it every day. Will I ever do it? Maybe, but probably not. Paddle Forward did actually get up and achieve their dream to paddle the Mississippi River.

Last week at our monthly River Rangers meeting, we had two lovely ladies, Liz and Erica, from the Paddle Forward group visit and share some of their awesome stories. They had two overarching themes: the beauty of the river and the kindness of the people who met them and took them in during their trips.

I’ve never seen the Mississippi Rive south of Minnesota (at least to while I was old enough to remember it), and I shared the lack of knowledge of the Lower Mississippi the paddlers had when they arrived on that part of the river. That’s right, while well prepared from the packing standpoint, prior knowledge amongst the group of 11 paddlers was not extensive. Some had barely ever paddled a canoe prior to striking out in Northern Minnesota. Most had no idea what a levy or a lock looked like.

All of them had no idea how kind the people along the river would be and how much more time they would wish they could spend with them. While the trip took exactly the planned number of days, 70, if it weren’t for a need to get back on time, the participants would have much rather spent time traveling, rather than through-tripping, down the river. People through them parades and feasts, asked to show them about their local history and traditions, and gave them mansions to sleep in along the way.

In both pictures and words, we got to see the beauty of the River from head to toe. Though changing drastically in size and shape along the way, it remained surprising and beautiful. In the north, it was natural beauty. Further south, human influence became apparent, but Mother Nature never lost her touch. They even found a living souvenir to take home with them, a dog they named Winnie.

The presentation ended with an opportunity. Wild River Academy is planning to do a similar trip on the Illinois River this fall, and they are looking for people to join them. Unfortunately, I have school to attend in the fall, but maybe you don’t. Check out more information here: or contact them at

Also, check out our research and adventure story for our next meeting!  Heather will be telling us about her research on a river in India, her experience with a Fulbright scholarship, and stories of wonderful people and beautiful scenery. Find out more about her research here:


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River Life in Video
Come Along for a Water Walk with Kare11 and River Life, and see Gifts at Work: The Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota Foundation
Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.