Here is a picture of the lovely and expansive Wisconsin River, as it runs through Iowa County. It is the second to last county that is touched by the river on its 430 mile course through Wisconsin: from its source in the far north (where it is a narrow winding stream) to its mouth where it empties into the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien.
The Wisconsin River is currently “trending” for many conservationists in Wisconsin thanks to the personal odyssey of Ruth Oppedahl. Between September 27th and October 14th, Ruth is paddling the length of the river, often in the company of other conservationists, and talking to people who have spent whole careers working to protect water in Wisconsin.
Ruth, the leader of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (the NRF), has said she always wanted to paddle the length of the river “someday,” and suddenly, this year, forces aligned to make such a trip seem not just attractive, but compelling.
As explained on the NRF website: Wisconsin parks and all our natural resource programs have received “unprecedented funding reductions this year jeopardizing some of the things Wisconsinites love most about this state. . .” Included in the state budget cuts: an $84,100 nonprofit capacity grant that NRF has received annually since 2000.”
A Hope to Rejunvenate: ” . . by living outdoors for 18 days . .”
And as Ruth herself wrote: “Saddened by the reduction in support for conservation and natural resources in our state, I felt like I had to do something . . . people were asking me what could they could do?”
She scrapped plans to vacation in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, planning instead “to vacation in Wisconsin and paddle our namesake river . . . I hope to rejuvenate myself by living outdoors for 18 days. . .” While doing so, Ruth is meeting others along the river “and sharing the many ways we all care for our beautiful state.”
There are a number of ways you can follow Ruth’s adventures, meeting who she meets, learning how she deals with daily challenges from fixing a leaky kayak to portaging around dams; both beaver, and hydroelectric dams.
The quick and interactive method is NRF’s Facebook page where you can leave encouragement and advice, or ask a question.
My personal favorite is at NRF’s Wisconservation blog, where Ruth’s audio diary is transcribed each day. Here’s just one of the many Wisconsin River facts I’m learning along with Ruth: not all that long ago, the river near Hat Rapids (between Rhinelander and Tomahawk) was a polluted mess.
From Ruth’s post: ” . . . this was a place where human waste and paper mill – pulp mill – waste accumulated on top of the river and it was just a foam. Nobody lived on the river, it was disgusting. And then, thanks to the Clean Water Act, thanks to the work of people like Susan, the Wisconsin River is much, much cleaner than it was just 40 years ago.” I’d encourage anyone to get involved with Ruth Oppedahl’s odyssey; check it out.
Well done to Ruth for raising awareness and in revealing an account of passionate people who have shaped the changes to the health of a whole river and it’s ecosystems. Hopefully funding will come through other sources?