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Tradition still rollin' on the river

Tyler Lenning puts his stuff out to dry in the sun Tuesday along the Minnesota River in Granite Falls. Storms drenched many of the campers during the night. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

GRANITE FALLS -- Thunderstorms swooped down in the middle of the night on 18 unsuspecting campers, with winds strong enough to pull some tents from their stakes and rain enough to soak most of the party.

Some traditions never change.

"It always seems to happen here,'' laughed Richard "Butch" Halterman, a Montevideo science instructor, as the water boiled for instant oatmeal Tuesday morning in the Memorial Park shelter in Granite Falls.

The instant oatmeal is also part of the tradition begun in 1999, when Halterman started leading students down the Minnesota River. He's made an annual trip ever since, with the exception of the last two years when circumstances prevented it.

His goal remains to inspire the next generation of river advocates by introducing them to the wild beauty, history and science that are to be discovered.

They travel by canoe like paddlers in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, packing camper's foods, tents and even a few fishing poles.

"It's an experience,'' said Jake Bedmar as he hung wet clothing on a tree as if he were decorating a Christmas tree.

Like most of the high school juniors, seniors, and recent graduates on the trip, Bedmar is no stranger to canoeing or camping.

But most have never really explored the Minnesota River. Their introductory, 10-mile paddle from Wegdahl to Granite Falls on the first of a four-day adventure had them eager for more. "Some of the scenes were next to none,'' said Bedmar.

The tech-savvy students had checked the weather on their smart phones when pitching the tents Monday evening. They rolled out sleeping bags unconcerned about the 25 percent probability of thunderstorms. That's like flipping a coin and getting heads twice in a row, their instructor observed over breakfast.

Halterman stayed dry in his tent, but can tell plenty of stories about the challenges found on the trail. In 1999, 2000 and 2001, he gained statewide attention by leading students on two-week trips that covered the length of the Minnesota River.

"I don't know how we did it,'' he said.

There were days with 11 hours of paddling.

"Age has crept up on me,'' said Halterman. He has shortened the trips to four-day excursions with more time for taking in the sites.

This trip's itinerary covers roughly 50 river miles, with camping stops at Memorial Park in Granite Falls, the Upper Sioux Agency State Park and Renville County's Vicksburg Park before reaching a take-out point at North Redwood.

Halterman and co-leader Harrison Aakre, a Montevideo public schools life science instructor, pack as many lessons as they can into the trip.

Yet Halterman is the first to say his goal is to make sure everyone has fun on the river.

That's a big part of the tradition, according to the paddlers. "Halty is awesome,'' said Mackenzie Flickinger when the paddlers were asked what interested them in making the trip. "I wouldn't want to do it with anyone else.''

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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