Montevideo teacher has long, winding summer classroom
MONTEVIDEO -- Richard "Butch" Halterman can tell of camping adventures with high school students where tornados swirled in their vicinity, torrential rains forced them to find dry ground, and straight-line winds rattled their tents and brought sheriff's deputies to make sure they were okay.
This year's trip brought three days of intermittent rains, but the results were no different.
"Fun,'' said Kimberly Botkin. "I didn't even notice the rain.''
Botkin, a junior at Montevideo High School, was among 29 students and adult chaperones joining Halterman on a three-day paddle down the Lac qui Parle River and a portion of the Minnesota River June 10-12.
Halterman is a Montevideo science instructor who has been leading students on adventures on area waterways since the early 1990's. He was among 10 finalists for the Minnesota Education "Teacher of the Year'' recognition in 2010.
In 1999, he led high school students on a 13-day paddle down the entire 330-plus miles of the Minnesota River. He's been at it ever since, taking high school students on overnight excursions to acquaint them with the outdoors right at their doorsteps.
"That's what it's all about,'' said Halterman. "You can go out for a day and have an adventure right here in Montevideo.''
High school senior Ryan Boike said the trip introduced him to a wilderness-like adventure he had never expected to find so close to home. He also appreciated the challenges it offered, including the weather. "It's fun to know that the rain isn't going to kill you,'' he said, laughing.
The rains that fell during the trip were the first in weeks, and water levels on the Lac qui Parle River were relatively low when the students launched their canoes and kayaks at the U.S. Highway 212 bridge near Dawson. They occasionally bounced off underwater boulders and sometimes, unexpectedly came to grinding halts on gravelbars.
But always, they enjoyed the wild scenery of steep cliffs and the challenge of navigating the frequent bends and easy rapids that make the Lac qui Parle River such a fun ride for paddlers.
The trip also introduced the students to the natural beauty found at the Lac qui Parle County and Lac qui Parle State Parks. At each park, the students pitched their tents and gathered around a campfire. One night they swapped scary stories; the next, a few strummed guitars while others sang.
The second night of camping also brought the chance to cook "hobos,'' a staple of these river excursions. Halterman said it is always a telling experience when he starts slicing and chopping the potatoes, vegetables and meat that are to be wrapped in aluminum foil and slow baked over campfire coals. In just minutes students see the need to help out and pitch in, he explained.
Each year's trip brings together students in grades 9-12 who otherwise don't necessarily hang around with one another. Friendships develop fast, he said.
"It's just fun to be on the river with your friends,'' said Devon Payne, a Montevideo senior, when asked what she enjoyed most about the trip.
There is a price to pay: Payne said she knew muscle fatigue by the end of the first day's paddling. "My arms were so weak it was pathetic.''
The trips always include a mix of students who are veterans of previous year's adventures, and those entirely new to it. Halterman said he has shortened the trips and keeps an easy pace. His goal is to introduce students to the outdoors in a way that is fun.
Halterman said he gets to know his students on these trips, and no less important, they get to know him.
"Teaching is all about relationships,'' said Halterman. He said it is important to convey to students how important you feel your subject matter is. He takes every advantage along the way to point out and talk up the importance of the biological sciences to his fellow paddlers and campers.
The students needed only to ride the rain-swollen waters of the Minnesota River right into Montevideo to end their adventure. By that point, Halterman already knew the trip had achieved his goal of helping students discover and enjoy the outdoors.
"Nature is a hit record if you just listen to it,'' one student had told him.