Paddling with the river we love: Why FMR is steering toward more on-water programming

Tip of a canoe in the river by forested area

You don't have to paddle far or fast to fall in love with the Mississippi River. (Photo by David Wheaton)

Our team's love for the Mississippi shapes our work on behalf of the river. To create more chances for Twin Cities youth to deepen their own relationships with the river, we'll be adding more on-water experiences to our programming. Here's why.

How paddling with the river helped lead me to FMR

I know from my own life that paddling with the river can change a person. In 2013, I was part of a 70-day, eleven-person canoe expedition to paddle the Mississippi River from Bemidji to New Orleans. This experience, along with many other canoe expeditions, helped foster my understanding of water and its many complexities. But more importantly, paddling with the Mississippi River provided me space and time to fall in love with the river. 

A decade after that expedition, my relationship with the river has evolved through my work in environmental advocacy, education and research; through many evenings on the water in my canoe staring in awe at the heron rookery by the Lowry Bridge; through bringing my children to the river, and feeling pride as they articulate that their water comes from the Mississippi River far sooner than I ever realized where my own water came from. 

As Stewardship & Education Program Director at FMR, I continue to process my on-water experiences, learn from and with the river in new and evolving ways, and pair my personal and emotional understandings of the river with other ways of knowing as I strive to give back to the water for holding and molding me, for making me into the woman I am today. 

Fostering more connections to the river for Twin Cities communities

My experiences align with the vision for FMR's Stewardship and Education program: that individuals and communities feel a connection to the Mississippi River and its watershed, inspiring an ethic of active participation in stewardship and conservation. 

Our amazing staff creates opportunities for this kind of connection every week through volunteer restoration and stewardship events, classroom education and youth programming in FMR's Environmental Stewardship Institute (ESI). 

Now we're evolving our programming to offer even more on-water experiences, not just for recreation, but to cultivate relationship with place. This summer, we'll even host a volunteer cleanup on the river by canoe. (Sign up for our enewsletter to get volunteer opportunities delivered to your inbox.) We're expanding our ESI summer program by offering weekly paddles along the river in North Minneapolis, the gorge, at Bdóte and other areas to better help youth know, feel and care for all parts of the Mississippi River — not just the scenic stretches. Through FMR's educational outdoor experiences, youth will be able to witness places in Minnesota that provide new and unique opportunities for observation and learning as they move with the land, water and each other. 

Read a preview of our summer youth program plans.

Not everyone has access to a canoe, or the resources and the knowledge you need to safely paddle the river. Our programming will strive to create opportunities for the youth and community members who haven't had these kinds of experiences before. 

I believe paddling with a river has the power to transform our perceptions and relationships. Being on the water can allow people to more deeply appreciate the river's many ways of giving to the world. From a canoe, you can see that the interconnected relationships between the river, us and other life require great balance and care. And you can witness different stories of the complex and sometimes contradictory uses of the river. On-water experiences can foster our love and understanding of this important place and can be the basis for dedicated, lifelong stewardship and activism.

Sharing our stories

While good science and policy are necessary to protect the river, so are our personal relationships and connections with the water and each other that foster a sense of community and reciprocity with all living beings. Sometimes dipping a paddle in the river can inspire us to fall in love. 

To celebrate the way our own experiences with the river have led us to the work we do today, we're kicking off a series exploring our own personal connections. Look for our stories in our enewsletter, Mississippi Messages. And if you join us at a volunteer event or another FMR gathering, we'd love to hear yours.

This work of our Stewardship & Education program is made possible by Berglund Foundation, Cargill Foundation, H.B. Fuller, Minnesota Beverage Foundation, Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, Trillium, Union Pacific, Xcel Energy Foundation and members like you. Thank you!

Explore all of our Stewardship & Education updates.

Upcoming Events

Tuesday, June 25, 2024 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Nicollet Island, Minneapolis
New date: Saturday, August 10, 2024 at 5 p.m.
Hidden Falls Regional Park, St. Paul
Wednesday, August 14, 2024 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific & Natural Area, Inver Grove Heights