On Sept. 18, 10 young adults will take off on a journey across America via one of the nation’s longest and oldest avenues: the Mississippi River.
They’re canoeing more than 2,300 miles down the Mississippi with a videographer in an effort to document how watershed communities use and interact with the river. They’re calling the project, organized by local nonprofit Wild River Academy, Paddle Forward.
The group will start in Itasca and paddle down to New Orleans by Thanksgiving. They plan to stop at 15–20 different cities and towns on the way and spend two days at each place interviewing officials and community members for the documentary.
“We have to average 30 miles a day, which is totally do-able; we’ve got some great outdoors people going on this trip,” said Natalie Warren, co-owner of Wild River Academy and founder of Paddle Forward.
The 10 paddlers come from all over, including a teacher from Maine, a political science major at the University of Minnesota and a self-described canoe enthusiast from Illinois. Warren herself is no stranger to epic canoe trips, having been one of the first women to paddle from Minneapolis to Canada’s Hudson Bay two years ago.
Warren said when she thought of the idea while flipping through a coffee table book on great rivers last January, she had no idea she would end up with a group so passionate.
“It’s just absolutely amazing how many people you talk to and just casually say, ‘Hey do you want to paddle the Mississippi?’ and they are like, ‘Yeah, sure, I have nothing to do for three months,’” Warren said, laughing. “That says a lot about our generation.”
Prepping for the adventure has taken time, effort and funds. The group held several fundraisers around the Twin Cities over the summer and has three more coming up, the next at the Cause Spirits and Soundbar in Uptown on August 25.
“We’re trying to raise enough money to where we can cover our food and all of our transportation costs, and then on top of that we’re raising money to basically edit the film,” Warren said. “We want to have some extra funds to do some marketing and PR, too, so we can really reach as many people as possible.”
Paddle Forward has reached out to schools, writing a curriculum for students centered around the trip. Teachers can register their clasess to follow the trip via the Paddle Forward website (paddle4ward.com) where they will find blog posts and discussion questions posted by the Paddle Forward crew during the journey.
They also plan scrapbook contests. Students will be encouraged to research and create scrapbook pages relating to the different destinations where the paddlers travel.
“This whole Mississippi River has a great environmental, social [and] historical story to tell,” Warren said. “It’s a great holistic learning opportunity for schools to get on board.”
Warren said she anticipates group members will visit the schools that followed the trip to air the documentary, which will premier in the spring of 2014.
“What we’re expecting to find is that cities and towns along the upper Mississippi … interact with the water more, there’s more recreation going on,” Warren said. “As you get farther south, near Baton Rouge and paddle through what they call Cancer Alley and things like that, people are not going to be interacting with the river as much.”
While she said traveling during hurricane season might present some issues, Warren is confident the group will be able to meet all their goals during the two-month journey.
“You are always subject to whatever the weather is that day, which is challenging, but also kind of rewarding in a personal, kind of patient growth way,” Warren said. “I’ve found that when you make a destination, you end up at that destination whether you have to work really hard to get there or slow down. You just kind of figure it out.”