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Category: Education

Opportunities for paddle sports education are numerous throughout the Midwest, mainly through two different organizations or their affiliates (i.e., local paddling groups), Paddlesports North America (PNA) and the American Canoe Association (ACA). Both groups provide reliable instruction suitable for those who have never paddled, to the more advanced. Skills and instructor courses are offered by hundreds of trained instructors, across a wide spectrum of paddling, safety, and rescue disciplines. Course requirements vary considerable between these two groups.  In addition to PNA and ACA, the United States Canoe Association (USCA) offers a one-day instructor certification course focused on the basics of canoeing.

Below are relevant links to PNA, ACA, and USCA instructors and course offerings. Note that new courses are added to each organization’s calendars during the year. Also, some instructors may not be teaching classes currently.

American Canoe Association:

Paddlesports North America:

United States Canoe Association:

The IPC offers scholarship through the Sara Hartman Fund for individuals achieving certain levels of instructor certification from both the ACA and PNA: http://www.illinoispaddling.info/heartland-fund/

Additional water related educational resources can be found from the following:

Mr. Canoe

Ralph FreseAt the beginning of the film, Mr. Canoe, we hear the voice of Ralph Frese over images of re-enactors dressed in traditional Voyageur explorer outfits, paddling in replica Native American birch bark canoes:

“The canoe is the only trail that take us through nature without leaving a trace of our passing.”

The statement is both iconic and ironic in respect to Mr. Frese, as he left much more than a trace after his passing. Indeed, his legacy left an indelible impression on all who truly knew him.

In November of 2012, Octane Rich Media (www.octanerichmedia.com) began filming a documentary about Mr. Frese, the Chicagoland Canoe Base that he founded, and his intriguing band of devout followers. Less than a few weeks after endeavoring to tell the tale of Ralph Frese, he passed away. The filmmakers began a four year odyssey to interview the people whose lives he touched and influenced, including the adventurers and explorers inspired by Ralph Frese to undertake the longest, most arduous canoe journeys in over three hundred years: The twentieth century re-enactments of the Joliet Marquette and the LaSalle Expeditions, traversing waters from Montreal, through the Great Lakes, and through the heart of the country via the mighty Mississippi.

James Forni, the Director and Executive Producer, and Joshua Jones, the Director of Photography and Editor of the film, combed through archive materials, films, radio and television interviews spanning a half century to craft the complex portrait of one of Chicago’s most interesting and influential citizens. A key piece of the archive involved carefully restoring the 16mm film from the 1973 Joliet Marquette Expedition. We learn that Ralph was both inspiration to fellow paddlers and a superb craftsmen, one of the last blacksmiths in Chicago, an ardent historian, and passionate environmentalist. While the title of Mr. Canoe was originally and rightfully the sobriquet attributed to Ralph Frese, it also became evident that the name belonged to his proteges as they have carried forth his traditions, like the portages they shared with Ralph over the decades.

One of the central stories explored in the film is the LaSalle Expedition – referred to as LaSalle Expedition II. Inspired by the bicentennial celebration, it was the only historical re-enactment traversing both Canada and the United States in 1976. A crew of roughly twenty men canoed and portaged 3,300 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico in 34-foot canoes and handmade clothing, with little modern equipment, in a Tricentennial re-enactment of LaSalle’s 1676 Expedition through the United States. We discover that the nine-month expedition was funded by a group of donors who raised a significant amount of money for the challenging and resource-draining trip, long before the advent of crowd funding.

The crew was supported by a team of dozens of on-land coordinators as they touched the lives of thousands, making stops along the rivers at towns and major cities to give educational presentations, sing French Voyageur songs, and spread a message of conservation, while teaching the public about the American Midwest’s often forgotten, or ignored, French history. While the crew had support along the way, the voyage occurred purely due to the perseverance of the re-enactors, paddling down Americas’s rivers and streams, hauling canoes across a frozen South Bend, Indiana, during one of the worst winters of the 20th century. The feat and journey to an outsider, which all of the men on the voyage once were, seems ludicrous. Who possibly could have convinced two dozen men to put their lives on hold for months to attempt something so difficult, dangerous, and seemingly impossible? A canoe maker from Chicago named Ralph Frese.

A generation after the expedition, the cast of unique characters speak about their memories of the trip with

remarkable vividness and insight into how our country views its history and environment. To the uninitiated, the extensive historic celebrations shown in the film at Fort De Chartres in Illinois, and the Feast of the Hunter’s Moon on the Wabash River in Indiana, will be a revelation.

The story of Ralph references how once a boy, who loved nature and happened to take an interest in boats, became an undisputed authority on all things canoes, including their astonishing place in the history of North America, both before and after the arrival of European settlers. A third generation blacksmith, Ralph eventually converted part of his father’s blacksmith shop into a place to build and forge canoes. With the deeply felt belief that a canoe is the finest way to experience the wilderness, Frese pursued re-creating Indian birchbark canoes and the canoes of the French Voyageurs. In many ways an entirely self-educated man, Frese cultivated an archive of French Voyageur artifacts, a library of information about canoes and their history, and fed an obsession with the Midwest’s under-represented French influence. We discover through the film that though he was argumentative, meticulous, and in his later years a bit of a curmudgeon, he was always an instigator and with a well-earned reputation for getting people to do what they would never do otherwise, things they would have never thought themselves capable of doing.

Many of the endearing scenes surround the witnessing of the many tributes to him: from Alderman Tim Cullerton’s official posthumous dedication of the Honorary Ralph Frese Way on the property of the Chicagoland Canoe Base, to the thousands of people who showed up to participate in the Des Plaines River Marathon, a race he created, the year after his passing, and the donation of his unique, historical archives to the newly founded Chicago Maritime Museum in Chicago’s Bridgeport community.

Mr. Canoe is, finally, a study in pursuing your passion and a glimpse into how the delight of a life-long obsession can inspire others from different walks of life to follow a dream. The Mr. Canoe documentary feature film is set to release in the spring of 2017 from production company Octane Rich Media and its recently formed film studio: Octango Films. Details on festival screenings and DVDs will become available next year.

The filmmakers are soliciting Ralph Frese memories and materials.  Click here to learn how to contribute.

Ralph Frese
Ralph Frese at Chicagoland Canoe Base, November 2012
Chicagoland Canoe Base, 2012
Chicagoland Canoe Base, 2012
Chicagoland Canoe Base, 2012
From Left to Right: Reid Lewis, Rich Green, Bill Derrah filmed at the Fort Des Chartres Rendezvous 2014 for the upcoming feature documentary Mr. Canoe
Photo from the 1976 LaSalle Expedition II
Illustration: Engraving of Pipe Smoking Voyageur from the feature documentary Mr. Canoe
Bill Derrah and Rich Gross, featured interview subjects from Mr. Canoe
The Feast of the Hunter’s Moon Celebration, 2014

Mr. Canoe – Your Contributions Needed

Chicagoland Canoe Base, 2012
Chicagoland Canoe Base, 2012

The filmmakers for the upcoming documentary, Mr. Canoe, set to release in 2017, are seeking submissions from any paddler with memories of, photos, or correspondence with the late Mr. Ralph Frese – the subject of the film. If you have any previous contact with Ralph Frese and would like to share your memories, you may send an email to Sigrid H. Pilgrim at spconsult@comcast.net.

Materials may be sent to the film makers at the following address. Contents will be scanned, photographed, and returned, provided you include a return address. Deadline for submission is December 1, 2016. Any material used in the final film will receive mention in the credits. You will receive a release letter to verify that you are the sole owner of the material and can grant the usage of it in the film.


Octane Rich Media

C/O Mr. Canoe Documentary

500 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 600

Chicago IL 60611


For additional information about the film, click on this link.

Calling / Requesting / Soliciting All Paddlesport Event Organizers

With this year’s paddling season drawing to a close – except for some die-hard paddlers that love breaking ice – it is time to think about next year.

IPC has an events calendar where we list all paddlesports-related events we become aware of. This also helps in promoting your event(s).

If you are a paddlesport event organizer, or know someone who is – whether a competition/race, a river cleanup, a paddling festival or any other event involving paddlesport – canoe/kayak/SUP/raft- on a river, lake,  bayou (ok – we may not have some here in Illinois) – please forward such information to

news@illinoispaddling.org – or to spconsult@comcast.net

We would like to compile a master list for next year’s events to publish in upcoming newsletters with details (so include background on – and details of – the event). Hopefully, we can also avoid having major events take place on the same weekend.

If you have any questions, please forward these to spconsult@comcast.net

Thank you – Sigrid Pilgrim, Director, PR & Marketing

Just Around the Pointe – Guinness World Record Attempt

Dear Paddlers,

On March 13, 2017, Traci Lynn Martin, an experienced expedition kayaker and successful ultra-endurance competitive kayaker, will begin her attempt to set a new Guinness World Record.

“My goal,” explains Traci, “is to set a new Guinness World Record for the most miles kayaked in one year and in the process, to encourage and inspire individuals with chronic health conditions to reach for their dreams and don’t ever give up.”

In 2010, Traci was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, a debilitating disease. Despite the diagnosis, she continues to race and has placed first in several competitions. She has set three course records in the mixed tandem division, and has set course records in the women’s solo division of various races.

The Stellar Tour de Force record-breaking attempt will include:

  • 2 Countries- USA and Canada
  • 5 Canadian Provinces – Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia
  • 14 States – Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Maine, Pennsylvania, New York,  New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey
  • The 5 Great Lakes
  • The St. Lawrence River Seaway
  • The Hudson River to Troy, New York
  • The Erie Canal System to Lake Oneida and back onto Lake Ontario (via the Oneida and Oswego Rivers)
  • 8,600 miles in 265 days!

At the same time, a documentary will be filmed. See the documentary trailer here: https://vimeo.com/184781882

View the website for the trip with details, route, and projected timeline: http://justaroundthepointe.com

Traci would love to have members of your group paddle along with her when she is in your area.  You will be able to track Traci’s progress and location on RaceOwl.com beginning in March 2017.  She is also in need of people who are willing to deliver supplies to her along the shoreline of her route.

For comments/questions, you may reach Traci at justartoundthepointe@gmail.com.

If you would like to be included in trip updates and future press releases about Traci Martin’s epic journey, please reply back with your agreement to “opt-in” and include your group/association name and email address.

We look forward to sharing Traci’s journey with you!

Mary Strope, Media Coordinator for Traci Martin



New IDNR Regulations on Boat Liveries

Below is information that DNR has decided to use as the standard for boating safety:

“The operators of boat rental services shall offer abbreviated Department and National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) approved operating and safety instruction specific to the type of watercraft being rented to the renter and all potential operators”

Therefore it is NASBLA approved and specific to the type of watercraft.  The website for that education is http://rentalboatsafety.com/, and is on our site at http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/boating/Documents/Boat%20Rental%20Services.pdf  We also have the American Canoe Association link on our website as well that people can visit.

Canoe/Kayak Rentals

The specific information pertaining to canoes and kayaks can be found here:  http://rentalboatsafety.com/canoe-kayak.php – the page that has the instructional videos and the test pertinent to canoe and kayak renters.

While there seems to be a conflict with the wording on the page “Approved abbreviated course for watercraft rental purposes”  (rentalboatsafety.com) that references compliance with the Illinois Boating Safety Certificate requirements (checking this out shows that it pertains to motor boats only), this Admin Rule does include renters of canoes and kayaks, too.

The idea behind the legislation is to reduce canoe/kayak accidents involving rental operations where often the renter has no paddling experience at all. It is supposed to work as follows:

  • when a person calls up a canoe/kayak rental place to rent a boat – the livery or rental business needs to tell the potential renter to go to the website, watch the videos/take the test/print out the certificate and then bring that with him/her to rent the boat
  • same day walk-ups can be instructed on site by watching the videos or taking the test

Book Review: Hard Rivers – The LaSalle II Expedition, Author: Craig P. Howard

By Sigrid Pilgrim

Some of you may remember the reenactment of the Marquette & Joliet Expedition by Ralph Frese, which in turn lead to La Salle: Expedition II, a reenactment of the 1681-82 voyage of La Salle from Montreal to the Gulf of Mexico for which Ralph also built the six canoes.

I just received a copy of the book that Craig Howard wrote about LaSalle II and it is such fascinating reading that I could not put it down. Although I am not quite through (it’s over 300 pages) since Amazon just delivered it two days ago, I would urge anyone interested in not only  history, but also learning more about Ralph, and most importantly, the incredible journey that the crew of seven adults and sixteen teenage boys accomplished, to read this book. Reading about the three-year preparation in the selection of the crew, the interpersonal relationships among the expedition members, and the hardships encountered during this 3,300 mile journey, have left me almost unable to put the book down.

I learned of the book by chance, after PaddlingLife.net published the summary of this year’s Des Plaines Marathon event. The book’s author, Craig Howard, saw the item and subsequently contacted the editor, who forwarded me his note. I asked Craig how he was able to write this book and here is his response:

“Like the expedition itself, it was a team effort. Many people pitched in to tell their stories. My job was to stitch together their stories, to let them tell it as it was, and to keep the heck out of their way. Many things deserve to be remembered, and this expedition is one of those. Shakespeare’s Marc Antony spoke the truth of it in Julius Caesar: ‘The good (that men do) is oft interred with their bones.’  Expedition II falls into this category.”  

Postscript: A second book on the LaSalle II Expedition has been written by Lorraine Boissoneault, who will talk about it in a presentation October 20, at the Evanston History Center. See details here (scroll down 1/2 page)

Canoe Sailing

By Don Mueggenborg

Put two great ways to travel on the water together – paddling and sailing – and you have canoe sailing.

The first time I tried it was almost my last time doing anything.

I had a 16’ canoe made of orange crates – plans from Boys Life. I bought it used and wish I never got rid of it, but that is a different story.  It was my first canoe.

My folks had a summer cottage on Wonder Lake.

I got the idea. Found an old bed sheet and some 2 x 2”s, a little rope, and I paddled down to the end of the lake.  I had nailed the sheet to a 2 x 2.  I tied the second 2 x 2 to the front thwart of the canoe and tied the rope to the sail.

With the wind at my back, I hoisted the sail and started moving. Slowly at first.

I tied the end of the rope to a thwart and was steering with my paddling. I was sitting in the back of the canoe.

I started moving, this was great. The wind picked up.

Now there was pressure on the paddle, it was good as long as I didn’t change the angle of the paddle. I realized I couldn’t turn or I would flip over.  I couldn’t get to the rope to drop the sail.

And I was really, really moving.     Headed straight for the pier!

Panic!   Panic!

My dad was standing on the far end of the pier.

I was about to bail out when I heard a “crack.” The mast broke. The broken mast and the sail fell forward and I went flying under the pier.

My dad just looked at me as I whizzed past and said “Good plan – breaking the mast just at the right time.”

Now I still sail a canoe once in a while. A 26’ or 22’ Voyageur canoe.  With a crew to raise the sail, two people to hold the ropes at the ends of the sail (do not tie them), and one person to steer.


Bicentennial Paddlers Recall Their Test of Endurance

Then and now: Marc Lieberman (foreground, left) hauls equipment uphill on the gravel of Weston Road in September 1976. Forty years later expedition photographer Bart Dean (below left) and voyageur Keith Gorse lead expedition veterans on a 6.5-mile hike along the now-paved road. (Photo by Barton Dean)
Photo by Craig P. Howard

By Craig P. Howard

“I was on a lot of sports teams before and after our trip,” said former gymnast Terry Cox. “But I never learned as much about teamwork as I did with La Salle: Expedition II.”

Sixteen junior boys at Elgin and Larkin high schools worked together in 1974-76 to master modern sciences using arcane instruments; to learn history, music and French, and to discuss it all with people from Montreal to the Gulf of Mexico while reenacting La Salle’s journey to claim the Mississippi watershed for France.

As Illinois teenagers in 1976, the canoe men of La Salle: Expedition II paddled up the St.

Lawrence River and dueled ten-foot waves on Lake Ontario before starting an arduous portage north across metro Toronto. Cox, then 27, was one of half a dozen adult directors.

Dressed as 17th century voyageurs, the travelers wore moccasins that scarcely cushioned their feet as the boys trudged five miles for every road mile – a total of 175 miles – ferrying six canoes and three tons of equipment. The caravan marched over hot city pavement and rural gravel roads and through hills so rugged that La Salle himself called them les montagnes.

And that was the easy part.

The boys became men as they paddled their canoes into the coldest winter in the history of the Midwest. Lake Michigan froze from shore to shore, and all the rivers iced solid, including the mighty Mississippi. The 35-mile Toronto portage paled beside the 500-mile hike from southern Michigan to southern Missouri, where the river ran free again.

On Saturday, Aug. 6 the adventurers reunited to mark the 40th anniversary of launching their incredible voyage they had in 2012 to celebrate the 35th year of their arrival – on schedule – in the Gulf. Clif Wilson, who was capsized in 39-degree waters near Green Bay and run over by a truck in Indiana during the ordeal, organized the gathering. Randy Foster, who cooked during the expedition, cooked again for his mates.

The morning after their celebration, the voyageurs once again gathered deep in the Ontario hills for a 6.5-mile hike along Weston Road to the place where they had once again eased their canoes into water at the Holland Canal and paddled toward a rendezvous with history.

La Salle II veterans pause at a sign identifying the historic voyageur portage route. They include (standing from left) Keith Gorse, Bob Kulick, Gary Braun, Terry Cox, George Lesieutre, Sam Hess, Chuck Campbell and Marc Lieberman and (kneeling) Cathy Palmer and Randy Foster. Palmer was a member of the liaison team.
La Salle II veterans pause at a sign identifying the historic voyageur portage route. They include (standing from left) Keith Gorse, Bob Kulick, Gary Braun, Terry Cox, George Lesieutre, Sam Hess, Chuck Campbell and Marc Lieberman and (kneeling) Cathy Palmer and Randy Foster. Palmer was a member of the liaison team.

Photo by Barton Dean Bow man hacks at solid ice as fellow crewmen paddle through the thick slush in front of Wilmette’s Baha’i Temple in December 1976.
Photo by Barton Dean
Bow man hacks at solid ice as fellow crewmen paddle through the thick slush in front of Wilmette’s Baha’i Temple in December 1976.
Photo by Barton Dean Voyageurs, including expedition leader Reid Lewis, far right, paddle through a rare open stretch of the icy Kankakee River in late 1976.
Photo by Barton Dean
Voyageurs, including expedition leader Reid Lewis, far right, paddle through a rare open stretch of the icy Kankakee River in late 1976.
 Photo by Barton Dean Six canoes paddle toward Belmont Harbor as dusk descends over Chicago after shelf ice along the shore delayed launch and kept the boys from an elegant dinner at Adler Planetarium.
Photo by Barton Dean
Six canoes paddle toward Belmont Harbor as dusk descends over Chicago after shelf ice along the shore delayed launch and kept the boys from an elegant dinner at Adler Planetarium.

A Call To The IEPA

By Don Mueggenborg

For several days now, besides the seaweed in the river, there were globs of something floating in the river.

I have called the IEPA about possible pollution before – time to call again.

I paddled on a Tuesday and saws the stuff – whatever it was.

Wednesday I called the Des Plaines office of the Illinois EPA. After a bit of a discussion, I was switched to a field officer (or whatever the title).

Me: “There is stuff floating in the river, it might be raw sewage.”

EPA: “Is it green or brown?”

Me: “Ahh – brownish-green or greenish-brown.  Anyway – I paddle the river frequently and this is something different.   It might be sewage.”

EPA: Where are you paddling?  We will try to get out there to see what it is

I gave him directions, just above the first bridge north of the river – turn right – well, left if you are coming from the north, right if from the south. Wind your way to Madison Street, but it is not marked – go toward the river past the treatment plant.

THURSDAY – the river is as clear as I have ever seen it.

Call the IEPA back – they are not going to find anything today.

Me: “I’m the guy that called yesterday about the pollution on the Des Plaines.”

EPA: We haven’t –“

I cut him off –

Me: “You guys really act fast.  What a great job.  I called one day and the next day the river is clear.  Great Job!”

EPA: We haven’t got there yet.  Probably the heavy rain and cooler weather today.  With hot dry summers, the algae tend to grow.  Treatment plants also add phosphorous.  We will check it out.

By the way – I can’t seem to find the place you mentioned. Wind around where?”

I gave him better directions – turn East at the stoplight on Bluff Road – by a gas station – dead-ends into Madison St, turn right to the river.


Call the IEPA if you think the river is being polluted. In my experience, they really do respond.

The photos are of places on the lower Des Plaines.

Des Plaines River Des Plaines River

The Chicago Maritime Museum – Open Now

For several decades, a group of dedicated volunteers has diligently worked to remind us that Chicago would not exist were it not for the fact that it straddles a continental divide, and was founded because it enabled a continuous waterway from the East Coast to the Gulf of Mexico.

Most people think of Chicago as the birthplace of skyscrapers – yet – its maritime history has been almost forgotten – until just now – so visit the Chicago Maritime Museum at 1200 West 35th Street – 773-376-1982 – www.chicagomaritimemuseum.org

For us paddlers, the museum hosts a revolving exhibition of the canoes and kayaks from the Ralph Frese Collection that he donated to the museum as a founding father. The exhibits transit the evolution of the marine history from the use of dugouts, canoes, then schooners, steam ships, barges, and more.

You can also watch a video of Ralph Frese, whose passion for canoes, history, and nature will inspire you and many others today:  IN CANOEING, WE HAVE THE ONLY TRAIL IN NATURE THAT LEAVES NO TRACE OF OUR PASSING.

The museum also holds many treasured exhibits that demonstrate much of what has made the Chicago area what it is today.

Chicago’s Public TV station, WTTW, had a wonderful presentation and article about the museum, which can be accessed at: