Journey began on East Leaf Lake on June 3

Contributed photo
Hank Kohler was all smiles as he poses with a picture with his canoe on the shoes of the Mississippi River recently. Kohler left East Leaf Lake on June 3 on a trek to the end of the Mississippi River. 

By Chad Koenen


Hank Kohler quickly picked up his phone in a canoe recently, just south of Vicksburg, Miss., only to have to put it down to avoid a large barge that was sharing the waterways of the Mississippi River. Of course when you are in a canoe and meet a large barge, the right of way rules don’t necessarily apply.  

Kohler, who is a native of Ames, Iowa, but has a family cabin on Donalds Lake near Ottertail, has spent the past two months paddling a canoe along the Mississippi River watershed. He began his journey on June 3 on East Leaf Lake and reached his goal of making it to the end of the Mississippi River on Aug. 5. His final destination was the intercostal waterways of Morgan City, La. 

While a bevy of friends and family members have joined him periodically along the trip, Kohler has remained as the one constant on his trip from Otter Tail County to Louisiana. Throughout his trip, he has stayed at camp sites along the Mississippi River and once every two to three days he restocks things like ice and water to keep him cool and refreshed on his trip. He has camped at everything from a formal campground to simply sandbars along the route. 

Contributed photo
Hank Kohler left Otter Tail County on June 3 as part of a canoe trip to the mouth of the Mississippi. The money raises on the trip will be donated to a Mississippi watershed project.

With a heat index approaching 108 degrees and temperatures in the upper 90s, Kohler said the heat and humidity has been a challenge on the trip of late. 

“This looks a lot different than Otter Tail County,” joked Kohler of the scenes of Mississippi state. “It’s been going good. Down here it is unbelievably hot and humid.”

On June 3, Kohler embarked on a 2,100 mile trip from East Leaf Lake to the mouth of the Mississippi River as a way to raise money for the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and the Take CAARE program. The Take CAARE program stands for Take Conservation Action through Advocacy, Research and Engagement.

The program is based in Dubuque, Iowa and teaches individuals and communities about how to take responsibility for their local watersheds. The group has also spearheaded several endangered species projects, with the hopes of saving critically threatened fish, amphibians and fresh water mussels. Kohler said the program reaches approximately 5,000 children each year and helps to get them excited about protecting the environment.

Kohler’s latest canoe trip came 42 years after he made a similar trek with a group of three friends, all of whom were in attendance when Kohler pushed off from the boat launch from East Leaf Lake in June.

In 1979, Kohler, his brother Keith and friends Rich Wiebke and Dennis Weidemann decided to head north from East Leaf Lake just outside of Henning to the York Factory at the Hudson Bay. The once in a lifetime 1,300-mile trip featured a surreal adventure of fun, imagination and outback camping. They fished, camped and had a chance to follow the old fur trading route from Otter Tail County to Canada, which included the Otter Tail River and Red River of the North. Their story was even retold in Weidemann’s book “The Water Goes North.”

During the final stretches of his trip, Kohler even found a unique route through the Mississippi waterways based on the recommendation of the Rivergators, a company that provides a mile-by-mile guide for anyone navigating the Lower Mississippi River. Their suggestion was to travel through some of the swamps of the Mississippi River for a more scenic route, while also avoiding some of the large barges associated with the New Orleans area—something Kohler said he is ready to avoid due to the heavy boat traffic along the Mississippi River. 

“He highly suggested going through the swamp instead of getting in danger of the barges in New Orleans,” said Kohler. “It would be nice to get in and see an alligator or two.”

While his trip came to an end, Kohler said the work and fundraising for the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and the Take CAARE program will continue. He has been asked to give several speeches about his trip along the Mississippi watershed and will continue to raise money for the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.

“Just because the trip will end here doesn’t mean we won’t end the fundraising,” said Kohler.

For an update on his trip along the Mississippi River, follow Kohler on Facebook at One4Water. According to this One4Water Facebook page, Kohler has raised over $26,000 of his $30,000 goal as of Aug. 4.