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Riverquest celebrates 20 years of introducing students to the lake

An idea that sprouted two decades ago to get a few students out on the water to learn about the Twin Ports harbor and St. Louis River has blossomed into an annual rite of spring that now reaches 1,200 sixth-graders from 13 schools across the Twin...

St. Louis River
A group of Canada geese rests on a gravel bar on the St. Louis River near Chambers Grove in this September 2011 file photo. (2011 file / News Tribune)

An idea that sprouted two decades ago to get a few students out on the water to learn about the Twin Ports harbor and St. Louis River has blossomed into an annual rite of spring that now reaches 1,200 sixth-graders from 13 schools across the Twin Ports.

It's called Riverquest, a product of Minnesota SeaGrant and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority and underwritten by several area businesses. The effort sends the students onto the harbor on board the Vista Star tour boat for an intensive, interactive boat ride.

It's a hands-on experience that covers recreational, ecological, commercial and industrial aspects of life on the harbor, river and Lake Superior.

Riverquest starts today and runs through Thursday.

"Sixth-graders are old enough to understand the connection between the harbor and the estuary and what's happening there with people, with their own families and themselves," said Doug Jensen, aquatic invasive species program director for Minnesota SeaGrant who has been active in Riverquest since 1995. "Maybe they fish out there or their great-grandfather worked on the waterfront. This is a great way to show the connection between industry and environment and how people use the river."

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Kids will learn about invasive species, rip tides, water pollution and runoff, oil spills, hypothermia and Great Lakes shipping. They'll learn how important it is not to release their aquarium fish into the wild.

For the first time, there will be land learning stations at Pioneer Hall in the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

"Expanding on land has allowed us to accommodate a couple more schools. They'll get an hour on the water and then an hour in Pioneer Hall," said Adele Yorde, spokeswoman for the Port Authority.

About 16,000 students have participated in Riverquest tours since the program started in 1993 as a way to go beyond text books when teaching about the harbor. It melds history with geography and economics as well as freshwater ecology.

To help mark 20 years of river education, organizers this year added a keynote speaker and invited the public. Chad Pregracke, who founded the nonprofit Living Lands & Waters group, will speak at the DECC tonight at 7:15 in the Gooseberry Falls Room.

The talk is free and open to the public. The public also is invited to tour the Riverquest learning stations in Pioneer Hall.

Pregracke is considered a national champion of environmental stewardship who stresses that each person's individual actions can make a difference cleaning up the nation's waterways.

Since its inception in 1998, Living Lands & Waters and more than 60,000 volunteers have collected more than 6 million pounds of debris from our nation's greatest rivers.

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For more information go to here or here .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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