It appeared that this was going to be just another spring day in Northwest Wisconsin on the banks of the Namekagon River. The forecast was calling for clouds, winds and a 40% chance of rain, but this day had something else about to begin that would bring a ray of sunshine into the lives of an ordinary group of extraordinary people.
Through a generous grant from the National Park Foundation, the St. Croix River Association and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway are working together to bring Veterans, their spouses and their children to paddle, float and enjoy the magic of the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers.
This program is made possible through the hard work and dedication of Park Ranger and Army Veteran Jeff Butler. He sees this as a way to connect our Veterans to the rivers and other natural areas as they begin the journey of reintegration back into civilian life after serving their country in combat. With over twenty years of experience working with Veterans in a variety of outdoor programs he knows firsthand the smiles, laughter and camaraderie that outdoor activities can bring.
To make this project a reality, Jeff’s first priority was to establish a network of Veteran Service Providers along the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers. In reality, this system was already in place so it just took a few new contacts to connect the dots and find those Veteran advocates to help recruit the participants. Working closely with the Sawyer County Veterans Service Office a paddle was planned for June 1st for members of the Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom support group. This support group is for all Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom Veterans that live or work in the area.
On a cloudy June morning seven Veterans met to embark on a paddle on the Namekagon River from Hayward Landing to Stinnett Landing. Several of them brought fishing rods with the hopes of landing a smallmouth bass, or as one Vet put it “anything that bites”! As kayaks and canoes paddled to shore following their Namekagon river adventure smiles abounded. All those that fished caught fish, while others just relaxed and enjoyed the river. Meanwhile local Veterans had been busy cooking brats and chicken for the river travelers. The barbeque was the perfect end to our first Vets paddle, as generations of soldiers and sailors came together for a meal, river talk, and companionship.
This group is already planning the next paddling event which could be a camping, fishing or family event along the Namekagon or St. Croix Rivers