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‘Best of The Globe 2018' now underway

Minnesota river expedition cleans up 6,300 pounds of trash

Michael Anderson's canoe near Red Wing during the Three Rivers Expedition in September 2017. A year later, the adventure continues. Photo by Michael Anderson1 / 5
Michael Anderson of Wabasha paddles his canoe, constructed with a pine frame and ballistic nylon skin by Urban Boatbuilders of St. Paul. Photo by Grant Armour2 / 5
The Mississippi River near Natchez, Miss., during Michael Anderson's solo paddle as part of the Three Rivers Expedition. Photo by Michael Anderson3 / 5
Michael Anderson hauls trash in his canoe on the Minnesota River during the Three Rivers Expedition. Photo by Paul Twedt4 / 5
Michael Anderson poses with trash collected during the Three Rivers Expedition. He and Paul Twedt collected over three tons of trash. Photo by Paul Twedt5 / 5

RED WING, Minn.—It was an ambitious plan. Paddle 1,200 miles on three rivers in one summer.

That's OK. Michael Anderson is an ambitious person, especially when there is an adventure involved. Add a social cause to the mix, and he's all in.

When Anderson and Paul Twedt planned the Three Rivers Project, they knew it would be a challenge. They wanted to paddle the St. Croix River, the Minnesota River and the Minnesota section of the Mississippi River. They also wanted to pick up trash as they went.

"I worked in an outdoor education program with the park service in the Twin Cities," Anderson said. "I loved that, but I realized that eventually, I wanted to explore. I wanted to see the rest of the river."

Anderson and Twedt started in June 2017 on the Namekagon and St. Croix rivers, paddling 235 miles in 15 days. They packed out 736 pounds of trash, and the project was officially underway.

In July, the duo paddled the Minnesota River from the South Dakota border to the confluence with the Mississippi, covering 335 miles in 26 days. They hauled out 4,983 pounds of garbage.

In September, they set out from the headwaters of the Mississippi and paddled 622 miles to the Iowa/Minnesota border. From there, Anderson, a river guide with Broken Paddle Guiding Company in Wabasha, continued on alone to Natchez, Miss., a distance of 1,832 miles in two-and-a-half months, giving the project a total of 2,500 river miles and 6,300 pounds of trash.

Such a long trip requires extensive logistics. They carried five gallons of fresh water, which, along with food supplies, had to be replenished every three to four days. Because one goal was to pick up trash, they had to find drop off points for the garbage.

"We stayed in touch with the DNR in Minnesota, and in other places, many locals were willing to help out," Anderson said. "That is the magic of rivers. They connect people."

At night, they often camped on islands.

"Minnesota takes very good care of the Mississippi for recreation," Anderson said. "Many of the islands have designated campsites with fire pits and tables."

A long trip on a big river is bound to have some dangerous moments. Anderson said that paddling a canoe on the same river used by large boats and barges can be unnerving.

"The scale is so big," he said. "I was in a 29-pound human-powered vessel on a river with industrial boats. I had a VHF radio and talked to the tugboat captains, so they would know where I was."

Anderson said there were days when headwinds and high waves forced him to stop.

"If there is a storm, you crawl in your tent and read. If the weather is nice, you'd better be paddling all day."

Now, the Three Rivers Project has expanded. This year, Anderson already paddled the Chippewa River, adding 180 miles and 76 pounds of trash to the project total.

"Water is a critical element in life," Anderson said. "We hoped to inspire a sense of stewardship in people,"

As the river miles went by, Anderson realized that "it was less and less about me and more about flowing with the water. I am hopelessly addicted and committed to rivers. I realize now that this is a decades-long project."

Steve Gardiner

Steve Gardiner taught high school English and journalism for 38 years in Montana and Wyoming.  He started working at the Republican Eagle in May 2018.  He focuses on features and outdoor stories.  

(651) 301-7872
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