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Iowa man planning second paddling trip of a lifetime 42 years after his first, raising funds and awareness for conservation initiatives

Hank Kohler set out in 1979 with his brother Keith Kohler and friends Rich Wiebke and Dennis Weidemann on a 1300-mile paddling trip from central Minnesota to Hudson Bay. The lifechanging trip was later detailed in Weidemann’s book “This Water Goes North”. Now, 42 years after his first big adventure, Kohler plans to set out from central Minnesota and head south to the Gulf of Mexico.

On June 3, 2021, at 8:30 a.m., Kohler will set off from East Leaf Lake in Minn.—the same location he began his last adventure. This time, he’ll head south with the hopes of arriving in the gulf coast around mid-August.

“I want to use the unique nature of this endeavor to make people aware of clean water projects and conservation initiatives,” Kohler explains. “Water has taken me to wonderful places that hold special meaning for me and my family. Just by visiting and admiring a location, I’m not doing it any long-term good though. But I know people who are working to protect our vital water resources and educating young people so they can do the same for the next generation.”

Enter the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium (NMRMA), located along the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa. Part museum, part aquarium, part science center, the organization inspires stewardship by creating educational experiences where history and rivers come alive.

“My colleagues are doing great work educating individuals and communities to take responsibility for their local watersheds. Many of us are also heavily involved in endangered species projects, protecting or breeding critically threatened fish, amphibians, fresh water mussels and corals found throughout the Mississippi River watershed and the Gulf,” states curator of conservation programs Jared McGovern.

McGovern leads the organization’s Take CAARE (Conservation Action through Advocacy, Research, and Engagement) initiative which is in the process of recruiting area high school youth for involvement in conservation programs and is working in close partnership with city, county, state, and federal groups to make positive environmental impact.

“This paddling trip is more than a second big adventure for me,” Kohler states. “It’s an opportunity to help make a difference. A generation from now, our children or grandchildren may look to us and ask ‘why didn’t somebody do something?’ I want to be able to say that I did do something. I want to raise funds for conservation programs at the NMRMA and help pay it forward to the next generation. I hope folks will join me in that effort.”

To date, Kohler has already raised more than $14,000 in support of conservation efforts and Take CAARE initiatives at the NMRMA through a significant gift from Rockfarm Supply Chain Solutions, headquartered in Dubuque, Iowa, and the general public. The funds raised to date will purchase SUPSY buckets for freshwater mussel restoration efforts, trees and wildflower seeds to support pollinators such as Monarch butterflies who use the watershed as a major migration route, and teen selected stewardship projects that will be determined over the course of the coming months.

Kohler plans to document his travels through a daily Facebook update and will be joined along the way at times by friends, family, and even staff from the NMRMA. The public can follow Kohler’s preparations and travels on Facebook @one4water. For more on Kohler’s story and to financially support his effort, visit

Posted by Wendy Scardino at 12:07 PM