Rolling on the River: Canoers make a stop in Vicksburg on their journey down the Mississippi River

Published 4:44 pm Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Early Tuesday afternoon, Hank Kohler of Ames, Iowa exited his canoe in Vicksburg as a stop on his nearly 70-day journey down the Mississippi River to raise funds for nature conservation.

Currently on day 55 of his trip, Kohler started in central Minnesota and is making his way to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The idea was born for this 2,100-mile trip 42 years ago, when Kohler, his brother and two friends traveled by canoe to Hudson Bay from the same launch spot in Minnesota — going so far north that they saw a polar bear.

“I thought a couple years ago, I ought to go the other direction,” Kohler said. “Who has ever done that? Who has gone from the very same spot as far as you can go north and then four decades later go as far as you can go south?”

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However, this trip on the river wasn’t just for the fun or the challenge, but also to secure the future of the river and other areas of nature. Kohler’s journey is raising funds through donations for the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque. The Museum has a program called Take CAARE that impacts around 5,000 middle school to college students a year by teaching them about conservation.

Kohler said his mantra is that you can give up and ask what difference it would make, but he believes it is better to ask how you can make a difference instead. He said previously he hadn’t made many efforts to protect nature other than picking up trash, but he wanted to change that.

“I figured if I could raise funds for people who know how to help then that’s going to improve the future,” Kohler said.

Kohler arrived in Vicksburg accompanied by his friend, Dave Fravel of Sioux City, Iowa. Fravel is the seventh of eight companions Kohler will have on the trip with him. 

“Nobody could commit to the whole summer but I was going to do it with somebody so I started calling friends that were crazy enough,” Kohler said. “Dave is a schoolteacher, so I knew he could take some time. This is his last day.”

Fravel paddled the past two weeks with Kohler, and they now will spend a few days in Vicksburg with their wives before Kohler hits with water again in his canoe to the next destination.

“I’m a lightweight,” Fravel joked. “I only made it a little over 400 miles.”

Kohler said his favorite part of his trip has been the people he has met along the way.

“People who are nice enough to help us either bring us ice or water or find us a place we can get a shower or camp for the night or put us in a hotel,” Kohler said. “It’s awesome. The people we have met have been off the charts.”

In Vicksburg, Kohler’s “River Angel,” as they’re called, was Steven George who picked the pair up from the river and transported them and the canoe to their hotel.

“I met them on the river up in Arkansas, and I’m just being a driver for them and being a helper,” George said.

However, Kohler and Fravel said George is more than that. They said he is a hero.

We stop about every 30 miles, and we’ve had marvelous help from people like Steven all the way from Minnesota to here,” Kohler said.

Kohler said as he is nearing the end of his journey, he hopes that by the end of the trip they will have raised $30,000 for future conservation efforts to continue. To join in his efforts, click here to donate and here to follow him along the remaining leg of his trip.

“We are paddling it forward,” Kohler said. “I can tell you about the prettiest places in the world, but I can’t protect them — so let’s teach people how to.”