By Chad Koenen


With each stroke of the paddle, Hank Kohler came one step closer to reaching his goal of going from East Leaf Lake to the Gulf of Mexico. The canoetrip came 42 years after he made a similar trek with a group of three friends, all of whom were in attendance on Thursday morning, from East Leaf Lake to the Hudson Bay.

Photos by Chad Koenen
Keith Kohler, Rich Wiebke and Dennis Weidemann joined Hank Kohler by the shores of East Leaf Lake on Thursday morning before Hank began his 70 day journey from Otter Tail County to the Gulf of Mexico. The four friends embarked on a trip together 42 years ago from East Leaf Lake to the Hudson Bay. 

In 1979, Kohler, his brother Keith and friends Rich Wiebke and Dennis Weidemann decided to head north from East Leaf Lake just outside of Henning to the York Factory at the Hudson Bay. The once in a lifetime 1,300-mile trip featured a surreal adventure of fun, imagination and outback camping. They fished, camped and had a chance to follow the old fur trading route from Otter Tail County to Canada, which included the Otter Tail River and Red River of the North. Their story was even retold in Weidemann’s book “The Water Goes North.”

As he joked with friends before he left from the landing to enter the Leaf River last week, Kohler reminded those in attendance of his mission with the 2,100 mile trek—raising money for the One4Water program. He hopes to complete his mission in 70 days, but also reminded those in attendance that his trek was weather dependent and meant he would need to paddle 30 miles per day. 

While his last trip was about having fun and enjoying nature, Kohler is hoping to give back and make this trip count for something extra special. Kohler is hoping to raise money for the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and the Take CAARE program.

Kohler didn’t set a goal for his fundraising effort, but is just hoping his trip will help to further the efforts of the Take CAARE Program, which stands for Take Conservation Action through Advocacy, Research and Engagement. While he will occasionally be joined by friends and family members on the trip, Kohler will be by himself for much of his trek to the Gulf of Mexico.

The program is based in Dubuque, Iowa and teaches individuals and communities how to take responsibility for their local watersheds. They have also spearheaded several endangered species projects, with the hopes of saving critically threatened fish, amphibians and fresh water mussels. Kohler said the program reaches approximately 5,000 children each year and helps to get them excited about protecting the environment. Before leaving on his trip, Kohler said his goal was to raise awareness for the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Iowa and hopefully raise some money for their cause.

“I have to do something so that people that come after me can do those same time of things,” he said of his love of fishing and being outdoors. “I just want to safely paddle this river and help them raise some money.”

One important part of his trip is that it will be totally self funded, so any money he raises for his trip will be donated to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and the Take CAARE program. 

Kohler is planning to update people about his adventure along the way on Facebook at @one water #one4water.