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Man canoes from same Otter Tail lake to both Canada and Gulf of Mexico

One man started two incredible journeys decades apart, from the same small lake he canoed as a child.

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HENNING, Minn. — Leaf Lake, near Henning, has some unique bragging rights.

Because of the Continental Divide, water just west of there goes into the Otter Tail and Red Rivers and heads north to Canada's Hudson Bay. But just east of there the water runs east, then south, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Forty-two years ago, Hank Kohler, along with his friend Rich Wiebke, made the 1,400 mile trip north to Canada by canoe. A book was written about the experience.

"It took us 70 days, (traveling) over 1,300 miles," Kohler said. "We left east Leaf Lake and ended up in a spot we saw polar bears."

"Once we got smart enough and did enough reading that we realized, we are in the Mississippi watershed here but just over there is the Red River watershed and we were fascinated by that," Wiebke said.


For Kohler, embarking on another long-distance journey would have to be more than just another canoe trip, it had to be for something.

"When I thought a year ago about going the other direction from the exact same point, I thought it had to be a better reason than just fun," Kohler said.

Kohler has partnered with the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, in Dubuque, Iowa, with a One4Water fundraiser. As part of its Take CAARE program, the goal is to help raise awareness about water conservation as well as help raise funds.

"Ever since I was little, I enjoyed the fish and loons, but I don't know how to protect and preserve those areas," Kohler said.

On June 3, Kohler put his canoe in at Leaf Lake again, this time, he set out east into the Leaf and Crow Wing river system. From there, he canoed to the Mississippi River in central Minnesota. He hopes to reach the Gulf of Mexico 1,300 miles away.

Kohler's son, Andy Kohler, joined him near St. Louis for part of the trip. Kohler hopes to reach the gulf by summer's end. One of the challenges facing him as he gets closer to the gulf will be barge and boat traffic on the Mississippi River.

Follow Hank Kohler on his journey to the Gulf of Mexico at www.facebook.com/One4Water .

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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