Canoe Trip Connects Students with Pomme de Terre River

Madelyn Schoenberger

In October 2022, University of Minnesota Morris student leaders led a canoe trip on the Pomme de Terre river in Morris to inspire and educate. All students at UMN Morris were invited to participate in this adventure.

The Pomme de Terre river is a tributary of the Minnesota River, covering 125 miles from its headwaters in Tordenskjold Township in Otter Tail County to its mouth where it merges with the Minnesota River in Appleton. The city of Morris is conveniently situated along this stretch of river, which provides students the opportunity to explore and enjoy the outdoors.

Torr Johnson ’24, and Claire Garrett ’26, are interns in the Office of Sustainability. Johnson works in event planning, and Garrett works in outdoor engagement. Their shared work connects the campus community with the regional environment by offering a range of educational and
interactive activities.

"Our aspiration for these canoe trips is to give students time away from school to relax and be outside,” says Garrett. “During this trip, we hoped to share some insights into the importance of protecting the Pomme de Terre river to maintain a strong ecosystem and for simple enjoyment. There are some wonderful freshwater mussels in the river, like the rare Elktoe, too.” 

Two people in a canoe just leaving the shoreline

On the adventure, students boarded canoes under the bridge off of Highway 329 between the Morris campus and the West Central Research and Outreach Center. From there, they leisurely paddled upriver to a landing at Pomme de Terre Park, which constituted the half-hour-long trip. Students were then picked up from Pomme de Terre Park and driven back to campus.

Eight people standing in front of a van and trailer loaded with canoes

But the beautiful Saturday morning canoe trip was more than just something fun to do. For Johnson and Garrett, engagement with nearby outdoor spaces is an exercise in sustainability.

"Outdoor recreation is important to sustainability because it gives people a greater appreciation of the natural world,” says Johnson. “When people see just how beautiful the river is, and are able to enjoy the water, they are more inclined to protect it. While most students know that the Pomme de Terre River exists, very few of us have been able to actually enjoy it. The purpose of this trip was simply to introduce students to the Pomme de Terre River and have a good afternoon canoeing, in hopes that they will realize what an amazing resource we have right in
our backyard."

Interacting with the river in a recreational context cultivates a sense of connection to the environment, as well as appreciation of its presence. By participating in the trip, students gained a deeper understanding of local and global water issues in the context of climate change. This has proven to be especially relevant this year, as river water levels have reached historic lows across the world. The Pomme de Terre is no exception to this trend; students realized how shallow the river was at some points while they were canoeing and felt more connected to this issue after directly interacting with the water in our community. 

Additionally, students became aware of outdoor recreational opportunities in their community and expressed appreciation for the natural world that supports such a range of activities. After the trip, one student reflected, “I learned about canoe rentals, disk golf, and found a new park!”

Johnson and Garrett intend to organize another canoe trip on the Pomme de Terre in the spring. In the meantime, for students and community members interested in getting outside to connect with the world, they suggest visiting the Regional Fitness Center to see what seasonal recreational equipment they have available. They were also inspired by other outdoor engagement efforts, like Sam Guida’s ‘18 “micro-adventure” work and community outreach. 

These efforts are part of UMN Morris’s West Central Minnesota We Are Water initiative to develop a shared water ethic in our region.