The Mississippi River travels 2,400 miles through 10 states on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. “Along the Upper Mississippi every hour brings something new,” said Mark Twain, who coined his name from the term used to measure a safe depth for steamboats on the river. “There are crowds of odd islands, bluffs, prairies, hills, woods and villages—everything one could desire to amuse the children.”

His 19th century description is just as valid in the 21st century, especially during this year’s Summer of Paddling, a three–month celebration of America’s Great Outdoors filled with scores of recreational and stewardship opportunities for all ages and paddling abilities along the length of the river. At least 11 Friends organizations from Minnesota to Louisiana are partnering to plan and promote activities.

“When you have so many events with a mission everyone can agree on—like youth and getting people outdoors—it’s easy to bring in partners and give them a chance to show their colors,” said Mary Stefanski, manager of the Winona District of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge.

Friends of the Refuge Headwaters will co–sponsor a bike–and–paddle event topped off with lunch on National Trails Day June 2 when the new Aghaming Canoe Trail will be dedicated. It was developed by an Eagle Scout with guidance from refuge ranger Ed Lagace. Friends will provide refreshments and join the inaugural paddle. Through the year, Friends help map and maintain the refuge’s canoe trails—four of which have been submitted for possible designation as National Recreation Trails. Friends president Todd Paddock is also working with the new LaCrosse chapter of a statewide nonprofit organization called Kids and Mentors Outdoors to co–sponsor another summer paddling event.

Other Activities

Earlier this year, Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River launched a new Junior Stewards group for third to eighth graders: 16 youngsters come to the refuge every Saturday, usually with their parents, to “really develop their exploration skills and connect with the resource,” says refuge visitor services manager Pam Steinhaus. The young Friends–in–training will explore the backwaters of the river by canoe early in July, sharing stories of their adventures with refuge rangers. Musician Erica Wheeler will turn their experiences into a song to be performed at an evening concert.

Friends of Pool 9 and 10 are planning Mississippi River Adventure Days, encouraging people to post a pledge on the Summer of Paddling Web site or Facebook page:

  • Tex Hawkins: “I pledge to paddle in each pool of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.”

  • Jeff C.: “I pledge to paddle with my 4 &; 2 year old sons…Fostering a love of the outdoors and environmental stewardship can never start too early.”

Visit Summer of Paddling at