By Megan Huls Minnesota Trails Reporter
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Red Lake River becoming a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Canoe Route, a few determined outdoor enthusiasts set out to paddle the entire 193-mile stretch from Lower Red Lake to the confluence with the Red River of the North in East Grand Forks.
Long-time friends, Jim dale Huot-Vickery of Ely, Minnesota, and Wayne Goeken of Erskine, Minnesota, were given permission to begin their journey on May 29th at the headwaters of the river on the Chippewa Red Lake Indian Reservation. Before entering their canoes, the paddlers took part in a pre-trip blessing of the waters led by Red Lake Nation Chairman Floyd "Buck" Jordain, where tobacco was placed in the water for safe travels. The public began joining the Rendezvous the following day, as paddlers joined in for the next 12 days of the tour. Paddlers ranged in age from four to 89.
Along the way, community events greeted the paddlers with food and festivities. Thief River Falls offered a black powder gun demonstration with bluegrass music and delicious treats. The St.Hilaire community held a potluck picnic and geo-caching demonstration. A bonfire lit up the night sky at Sportsman's Park in Red Lake Falls.
"The memorable thing about coming into Red Lake Falls was it followed the longest day of the trip at 21.5 miles and we had the most boats on a single day with 14. It was also memorable in that we saw the most eagles on any stretch of river that day-5 in the sky at one time and more before and after that spotting-almost a constant escort. Also, it was the most challenging stretch of river with rapids encountered most of the way-exhilerating-just enough water to make it fun and challenging-but mostly fun!" commented Goeken.
At Old Crossing Treaty Park/Huot Park, river goers were treated to moose burgers around a campfire. The paddlers then enjoyed boxed lunches and a huge bonfire in Crookston. And finally on Sunday, June 10th, the kayaks and canoes reached the end of the Red Lake River in East Grand Forks where a grand finale festival was held to celebrate the trip.
The community events may have been full of loud, crazy fun; however, the river itself proved to be a quiet wildlife hangout, with bluffs providing a beautiful backdrop to the scenic river. The paddlers saw a black bear at Thief River Falls, were escorted by eagles at various times along the route and encountered several deer and birds. Turtles poked their heads above the surface to check out the equipment while beavers and otters cooled off in the river current. Various songbirds created a tune throughout the paddle, including orioles, kingbirds, yellow warblers, rose-breasted grosbeaks and more.
As full as it is with water and wildlife, the river is just as full of history. Along the riverbanks once existed trading posts, oxcart trails, treaty signing locations and steamboat landings. One of the most historic sites in Minnesota, Old Crossing Treaty Park/Huot Park, is located on the grounds where an 1863 treaty was signed between the Red Lake and Pembina bands of Ojibwe and the U.S. government, ceding nearly 11 million acres of land for $510,000 and gifts. This treaty was important in obtaining land necessary to create the northwest corner of the state.
As advocates of the river and its wildlife, the Red Lake River Corridor Joint Powers Board hopes to raise public awareness of the river.
"By highlighting the river resources, we hope to raise awareness about the opportunities for recreation and the need for more access and improvements to the access points along the route," said Board Chairperson Gail Healy. The board wishes to spark more legislative action to help take care of Minnesota's waterways.
Even though Goeken took time off from his job to travel the length of the river, he admitted he was still working. Wayne works with the River Watch program involving local schools in water quality testing.
"The Red Lake River is actually one of the cleanest in Minnesota," said Goeken. He documented erosion problems along the river and hopes to draw attention to areas that need assistance.
Paddling the Red Lake River provides an excellent opportunity to see what northwest Minnesota's natural world has to offer. Most stretches of the river are wide, quiet and calm, offering a serene environment to enjoy the outdoors.