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August 22, 2006

By Jessie Stone

Where the Rogue River Meets Lower Harlem

How often do you get an opportunity to impact people in a really positive way and have tremendous job appreciation at the same time? During our 5-day inner city kids kayaking camp on the Rogue River, I had just that experience. During every moment of that trip which began August 12th and ended August 16th I said to myself ? How did I get so lucky??? The Rogue has a very special place in my heart because I feel like I grew up on that river, and its where I learned to kayak. Its also one of the most beautiful rivers I have ever been on. Even after all the traveling around the world to paddle that I have done, the Rogue stands out as unique. In addition, the Rogue is one of just a few rivers in the lower 48 where you can do a multi-day wilderness trip. So the opportunity to share that special place with kids who would never otherwise have the chance is very meaningful and makes all those hours of planning and crazy logistics worth it. I reflect on how the river changed my life, and it?s the kind of gift I would love to give everyone!

This year we took 12 students and two chaperones from Boys and Girls Harbor down a 5-day trip through the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River, the same group that we taught to kayak in our New York City based camp in July. And these kids had no idea what a kayak was or even whitewater before we started. Now they return to the city experienced paddlers and campers. We had the good fortune to meet a new outfitter, Rogue Wilderness Adventures, who had a start date that was perfect for our group. So we went from almost canceling the whole trip to having a perfect set up. And the weather cooperated perfectly too, not a drop of rain during our five days and lots of sunshine. The other very important aspect of our trip is the instructors, and we were really lucky to have Margie and Hayden Glatte, Stevie Albrechtson, and Morgan Koons this year. It was a mini reunion of sorts too. All of us have worked together for many years teaching kayaking on the Rogue. Hayden even taught me to kayak way back when which makes it all the more special to continue that tradition and pass it on to our city campers. Margie and Morgan have been to Uganda to visit our project there and paddle, too. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the very special person who makes this all possible; he sponsors this trip every year and without him and his belief in our program, none of this would be possible!

Our chaperones from Boys and Girls Harbor, Anthony Means and Rosanna Taveras have been on three wilderness trips with us now and they greatly motivate and encourage the kids during some of those tough teenage moments. They know the kids well and are game for anything. Anthony is a graduate of Upward Bound at Boys and Girls Harbor so he is a great role model that the kids can relate to. In addition, he is becoming a very fine kayaker. His roll is now bombproof, and he has volunteered to work with the kids during the year in the pool to keep their hands in. On this trip, we had hard shell kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and a paddle raft so the kids could switch around and try lots of different things, and the Rogue is a big step up from the paddling the kids had been doing in New York and Connecticut. It was awesome to see Hector, Rochelle, Jessica, Jordan, and Yahira ready to paddle everything even if it really scared them or did not seem possible to them. Our three non-swimmers Marquise, Mathew, and Elizabeth loved being in the inflatable kayaks. Marquise even mastered Mule Creek Canyon in his inflatable and made every line.

Other paddlers that really improved during the week were Jason, Julissa, Johnny, and Julio. They all worked hard and met their challenges of being pushed out of their comfort zones. It was so great to see the kids? progression from the first day to the last. And its always fun to see kids learn and adapt to their environment. At first, sand was a big problem and not having a shower every night was a real drag, but by the last night, everyone was lamenting the fact that our special trip on the wild and scenic Rogue was going to be over. We even had sightings of black bears, osprey, and bald eagles. The kids spent a lot of time in the river swimming and playing and becoming experts at water fighting. Stevie renamed his raft the pirate ship and the raft certainly lived up to that reputation, taking prisoners, boarding other boats. Everyone perfected their, ?Arrgh!?

Through all this fun, the kids got an immersion experience in our natural, wild world. Even if they don?t realize the full impact of their trip now, I believe that no one leaves the Rogue River the same as they entered it. Even if all these kids do not go on to become kayakers, they have seen and experienced a special world that will enhance their own life experience on this planet.



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