Different Watersheds, Same Dream

Different Watersheds, Same Dream

Danielle Graham, Education Program and Communications Specialist

Graphic Timeline

 “Tiny boat message found 27 years after Duluth teachers launched it into Lake Superior” read an article title in the Grand Forks Herald.  The article went on to tell of a second-grade classroom in Duluth, Minnesota that had launched two small boats into Lake Superior and, as the title suggests, one has been found 27 years later.  The Herald was not the only news source to share the story of the boat’s journey in Lake Superior.  Outlets such as CNN, Newsweek, and NPR had picked up the story as well, causing the tale of the small boat to travel many more miles than the boat itself.

The concept of following a boat’s journey through a watershed may sound familiar if you are aware of the International Water Institutes (IWI)’s River of Dreams (ROD) program.  ROD is based on the book “Paddle-to-the-Sea” by Holling C. Holling, the same children’s book that inspired the launching of the boats into Lake Superior.  “Paddle-to-the-Sea” begins with a young boy carving a wooden canoe that he sends on a journey:

“I made you, Paddle Person, because I had a dream.  A little wooden man smiled at me.  He sat in a canoe on a snowbank on this hill.  Now the dream has begun to come true.  The Sun Spirit will look down at the snow.  The snow will melt and the water will run downhill to the river, on down to the Great Lakes, down again on at last to the sea” (Holling, ch.2).

Throughout the next several pages, the little “paddle person” makes his way through the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and eventually meets the sea.  The journey takes years, passing through forest fires, locked in ice, and overcoming Niagara Falls.  Though the story of “Paddle-to-the-Sea” takes place in a watershed whose water travels a different direction than our own, the concepts of the story translate well into any classroom, including those in our very own Red River Basin.

River of Dreams classrooms read “Paddle-to-the-Sea” each year to launch the program, followed by a classroom presentation about their home watershed and the creation of their very own “paddle person” whom they will write a dream for.  Students’ dreams and designs are tied to an individual tracking number and then launched into their watershed, tracked on riverofdreams.org as they are spotted along their journey!

In the first five years of the program over 160 classrooms have launched more than 4000 “paddle people” onto journeys through the Red River Watershed.  Some canoes have traveled hundreds of miles, while the length of others remains unknown, perhaps for another 27 years.   

To learn more about River of Dreams, visit https://iwinst.org/watershed-education/river-of-dreams/ or contact Danielle Graham, danielle@iwinst.org

Left, student launches a canoe off pedestrian bridge. Middle, group of students show off their canoe designs before launching them into their local river. Right, student holds up her water themed canoe.