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River People: Modern Day Explorers Connect with Missouri’s Historic River Cultures During Paddle MO


Time changes everything. is holds true for rivers and the people who call river valleys home. e waterways that have flowed across Missouri’s landscape since its formation have changed immensely through the centuries. Missouri, once covered by a great sea and then partly by glaciers, is now home to over 100,000 miles of flowing water. Our waterways and their channels and valleys are always changing as their flows move sediment from one location to another—either gradually over many years or quickly in large flood events.

But rivers connect us. Rivers draw us together to an unchanging constant: the ancient, current, and future importance of water. Missouri, our state’s name, originates from the Native American Sioux language, meaning “town of the large canoes.” Our cities and towns in Missouri were founded
in close proximity to rivers, which served as vital modes of transportation. Our state’s first capitol, St. Charles, is located just upstream from the confluence of two of our nation’s greatest rivers, the Missouri and Mississippi, which have shaped the history of our state’s river towns, from St. Joseph to St. Louis and from Hannibal to New Madrid.

Bordered by these two great rivers, and with an immense diversity of streams, including prairie streams in northern and western Missouri, spring-fed Ozark streams, and lowland streams in the Missouri bootheel, Missouri is truly deserving of its nickname “ e Great Rivers State.”

Since 1989, the Missouri Stream Team Program has worked to connect Missourians to their local rivers and streams in our Great Rivers State. rough volunteer-led litter pickup events, water quality monitoring, education events, and stewardship projects, the Missouri Stream Team Program has grown over 30 years to include over 6,000 citizen-led Stream Teams throughout
the state of Missouri. Formed in 1999,
the Missouri Stream Team Watershed Coalition (Stream Teams United), serves
as the nonprofit partner of the Stream
Team Program and serves to bring together Stream Teams and facilitate communication, education, advocacy, and stewardship projects with regional Missouri Stream Teams.

Native American and French historical presenters provide a living history presentation during the 2019 Paddle MO program in Washington.

P A D D L E . L E A R N . E X P L O R E . P A D D L E M O .
Inspired by Georgia River Network’s “Paddle Georgia” trip, Stream Teams United worked in 2015 and 2016 to organize and develop Missouri’s first “Paddle MO” educational river trip. Hosted by Stream Teams United each September, Paddle MO connects people to the last 100 miles of the Missouri River, beginning in historic Hermann and ending at the confluence with the Mississippi River at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area in St. Louis. Since 2016, Paddle MO has become an annual event, drawing about 100 participants each year to participate in a five-day, one-of-a-kind, outdoor learning adventure. In 2019, Stream Teams United expanded the Paddle MO program to also include a three-day educational journey on the Upper Current River, one of Missouri’s most famous rivers and our nation’s first designated National Scenic Riverway.

In 2019, Missouri Humanities partnered with Stream Teams United to offer diverse programs during two Paddle MO trips, highlighting the history and culture of the Missouri River and Ozark river regions.

The September 2019 Missouri River trip began with a showing of Rivertowns: 100 Miles, 200 Years, Countless Stories, the Nine Network special that illustrates the social, natural, and cultural changes in communities along the last 100 miles of the Missouri River over the last 200 years. Participants launched their boats from historic Hermann and were joined in New Haven by Steve Schnarr, the Director of Missouri River Relief, who provided an overview of changes to the Missouri River since European settlement. at evening, the group was joined by musicians Gloria Attoun and Michael Bauermeister, who provided a music presentation inspired by the folk/roots genre.

The next day, participants met at the Riverfront Cultural Society building in New Haven and departed for Washington, MO. As participants neared the Washington ramp, they were met by a birchbark canoe paddled by a crew of historical presenters portraying Native American and French tradesmen dressed in authentic period clothing representing the years 1740–1820. At Washington, the crew of historical presenters provided a living history discussion about Native American and Euro-American relationships and interactions. Later that evening, Cynthia Browne, Administrator of the Deutschheim State Historic Site in Hermann, presented about the German cultural heritage of the Missouri River towns in the greater St. Louis region.

Paddle MO participants gather as Jody Miles, Co-director of Earth’s Classroom, illustrates the amount of clean freshwater on planet Earth.

The inaugural Paddle MO Ozarks trip was held on 22 miles of the Upper Current River in mid-October 2019. e trip highlighted the work of St. Louis businessman Leo A. Drey to preserve the forested watersheds of the first National Scenic Riverways in Missouri. Participants were also joined
by Rick Mansfield, who shared the story of his 900-mile, 2019 retracing of Henry Schoolcraft’s 1818–1819 exploration of the Missouri–Arkansas Ozarks.

Along the Paddle MO routes, participants also gather together to listen to presentations about the ecology and geologic histories of the river. Jody and Bill Miles of Earth’s Classroom, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Rosebud, MO, serve as the lead on-water educators for Paddle MO programs and provide information about historical landmarks, such as landmarks from the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery on the Missouri River and historic spring sites on the Current River, and also teach about Native American culture and history of the river regions.

The Paddle MO 2020 dates are set: the Missouri River trip is scheduled for September 23–27, and the Upper Current River trip is scheduled for October 17–19. Registration for Paddle MO trips is open to the general public at Each year, several Paddle MO scholarships are available, depending on the support of various sponsors and grants. For more information about Stream Teams United and Stream Team activities in Missouri, visit

Health and social distancing guidelines will be followed during these events, and registration fees will be refunded for cancelled events.