Can U Canoe?

Of course, you can! And you should on the Fox River. 

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Education Director Jenni Kempf Schiavone canoed her kids to school one morning of her exciting 202-mile solo journey down the Fox last summer. Register to hear her story on Sunday, February 12 at Schweitzer.

The Fox River is a wonderful place for canoe experiences. As a mid-size river, it offers fewer hazards than big rivers with barges or small narrow rivers often blocked by fallen trees. The Fox River is normally slow moving with many areas along shorelines where the current is non-existent. The average depth is shorter than an average human for most of the year.

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First timers on the Fox – guests from Taiwan

Beginners assume that tipping a canoe can happen with the slightest movement, but tipping one over actually takes some effort. When I taught children canoeing at a camp, tipping it over was the first exercise. Some children couldn’t do it. Learning how to empty the canoe, right it and get back in built incredible confidence and opened the door for learning to paddle. Even in the event of a capsize, the shore is an easy swim/walk away. Many access points into the river are available. Slow current usually allows for short trips paddling upstream and floating effortlessly back downstream to avoid the time-consuming shuttling of vehicles.

Consider paddling the Fox River, it’s really easy.

Making Memories

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Gary’s son Jake’s early days paddling
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Gary’s son Jake paddling with the family 25 years later

If you have ever paddled a canoe, you have a lasting memory. From my experience, something about the uniqueness of canoeing generates an abundance of memories. Even the not so wonderful excursions become great stories. Inclement weather, equipment issues, and navigation challenges, once they are overcome, become tales of valor for the rest of peoples’ lives. I have taken hundreds of students on canoe trips on the Fox River, remote areas of Wisconsin, and into the Canadian wilderness. When I reconnect with those students, their first recollections of our times together as teacher/student are commonly the canoe trips. It was on those trips that the life lessons, exceptional excitement, and personal bonding helped to shape their lives. My own children endured hundreds of miles in canoes with me. When they thought they were outgrowing their canoe days, I learned a trick.

I would encourage them to invite friends to stay over. When it came time for the day or evenings plans, I often suggested a paddling trip. My kids would groan and roll their eyes. Their friends would consistently say, “Can we?” Not wanting to disappoint their guests, they would welcome newcomers into our paddling circle. Today, they brag about those experiences.

Part of the River

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A lone canoe on a still Fox at sunset between East and
West Dundee.

Friends of the Fox River has many photographer friends that generously allow us to share their art. It is very common to hear people marvel at the beauty of the Fox River and its inhabitants while looking at photos. That beauty is there every day, all day. Many people only see the river through a car window and even while riding a bicycle along the river, we give it only an occasional glance.

When on the water in a canoe, it is an experience of multi-sensory immersion. The support of the water caressing the canoe bottom, the impact of the wind on controlling the navigation of the canoe, the smells, the sounds, and evocative scenery invite you to be part of the river. To be part of the river is what makes canoeing such an impactful and memorable experience. Biking along the river trail, hiking the shoreline or wading in the shallow are not the “surrender to the river” that canoeing is.  That is what makes canoeing so emotionally special.

Turning Fear into Achievement

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The Shields-Johnson family enjoying the Fox.

Canoeing is not effortless. Getting the gear assembled, lugging the awkward and heavy craft to the water, the uneasiness of getting in and launching, feeling comfortable with on-the-water balance, and navigating are all our challenges, but in this case the adage, “you get out what you put into it” is accurate. Everything about a canoe experience is an achievement. It is said that one of true tests of a marriage is paddling a canoe together. You become a unit with your paddling partner, which takes trust, tolerance, patience, communication, and faith. I have had the great pleasure of introducing hundreds of people to their first paddling experience. Hesitant, the new paddler’s confidence grows, and the result is a very long emotional journey culminating in pride, joy, and a feeling of accomplishment – far greater than that of the experienced folks. Canoeing is an emotional journey.

Paddling through History

The canoe is part of our Fox River heritage with native people and early explorers traveling most efficiently on the water. The rivers were used as trade routes, assisted by the canoe which could carry much more than a human. Horses were valuable, but you don’t have to feed a canoe. When you canoe on the Fox River, you are dipping your paddle in waters just as Joliet and Marquette did over 300 years ago. Most explorers to this valley were awed by its natural richness and beauty. Sadly, signs of human activity with lawns and litter now abound but on some stretches of the Fox it feels like wilderness.

A Canoe For YOU

This canoe’s for you! Get a ticket!

FOTFR is excited to offer a truly unique canoe as a raffle prize; the sale of raffle tickets will help fund our unique collection of meaningful watershed education experiences for youths and continue to build our watershed community of caretakers. The Old Town Canadienne is a limited-edition creation of the legendary canoe designer, Ralph Frese. It is a versatile canoe that can carry a load of passengers and gear and cruise true on rivers and lakes. Its heritage makes it a collector’s item, but it is also a prize that should be used.

Please dream about paddling your white canoe on the Fox River while you reap all the benefits of such a trip. Think about how valuable your ticket purchase is for providing children with opportunities to connect to local nature. Now take some action and purchase your tickets to some Fox River memories.

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