I heart

How you can help

The I Heart Wisconsin River Trip was an 18-day paddle from the source of the Wisconsin River to the confluence with the Mississippi in October 2015. As a positive response to the state’s budget cuts to natural resources, Ruth Oppedahl, Natural Resources Foundation executive director, decided to use her vacation exploring our state from north to south and meeting with conservation groups and citizens along the way to learn how they help protect our lands, waters and wildlife. She discovered a beautiful, wild river and wonderful people along the way.

I Heart Wisconsin River Trip was Ruth’s effort to celebrate the state’s cherished outdoors and to inspire others to do what they can to help. See photos, videos and audio from every day of the trip on our story map or through our blog posts below.

Or come out to hear Ruth talk about her trip in person! We’ll add new dates as we book them (and if you’d like to book Ruth as a speaker, contact us at [email protected] or 608-261-4384. Presentation description and bio.

Planning a trip? check out my mile chart with road crossing, campsites, boat launches etc.


NORTH LAKE (northwest of Waukesha)
Tuesday, May 1, 2018 at 6:00pm

Merton Town Hall Library (information)
Corner of Hwy 83 and Hwy V V,
North Lake, Wisconsin

Thursday, May 24, 2018 at 6:00pm

Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library (information)
105 S Maple Ave
Marshfield, Wisconsin

Past presentations:
March 21, 2018 Aldo Leopold Audubon Society, Stevens Point, Wisconsin
December 6, 2017 Chippewa Valley Sierra Club, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
October 22, 2017 Chequamegon Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Ashland, Wisconsin
September 25, 2017 Attic Angels Continuing Education Program, Middleton, Wisconsin
September 15, 2017 
The State of the Riverway Symposium, Spring Green, Wisconsin
September 7, 2017 
North Lakeland Discovery Center, Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin
July 6, 2017 The Ridges Sanctuary, Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin
May 11, 2017 Elm Grove Public Library, Elm Grove, Wisconsin
April 19, 2017 Wisconsin Metro Audubon Chapter at Wehr Nature Center, Franklin, Wisconsin
April 6, 2017 Maywood, Elwood H. May Environmental Park, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
April 5, 2017 Upland Garden Club, Dodgeville, Wisconsin
March 27, 2017 
Winchester Academy, Waupaca, Wisconsin
March 11, 2017 Canoecopia, Madison, Wisconsin
February 9, 2017 Caestecker Public Library, Green Lake, Wisconsin
February 8, 2017 Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
February 7, 2017  Elm Grove Woman’s Club, Elm Grove, Wisconsin
January 19, 2017 Dinner Lecture Series of the Cable Natural History Museum , Cable, Wisconsin
January 18, 2017 Tomahawk Public Library, Tomahawk, Wisconsin
November 9, 2016 Voyageur’s Club, Madison, Wisconsin
November 4, 2016 Oakwood Village, Madison, Wisconsin
October 15, 2016 Hawk Ridge Observatory, Duluth Minnesota
July 23, 2016 Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators, Eagle River, Wisconsin
June 22, 2016 Black Hawk Country Club, Madison, Wisconsin
June 20, 2016 Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, Northland College, Ashland, Wisconsin
May 19, 2016 Chequamegon Bird & Nature Festival, Ashland, Wisconsin
May 12, 2016 REI Store, Brookfield, Wisconsin
April 22, 2016 REI Store, Madison, Wisconsin
March 18, 2016 Madison Kiwanis Club, Madison, Wisconsin
February 24, 2016 East Kiwanis Club, Madison, Wisconsin
February 18, 2016 Mosquito Hill Nature Center, New London, Wisconsin

Relive Ruth’s trip and learn about the places she passed on our I Heart Wisconsin: River Trip story map: 

Story map image


Why did I do this trip?

Every time I drove Highway 51 from Bayfield County to Madison crossing the Wisconsin River a half dozen times, I’d look over the bridge while I was zooming by, and think, “I should paddle that one day.” The Wisconsin River runs the length of our state 430 miles from the northern border with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the southwest corner at Prairie du Chien where it empties into the Mississippi. Parts of it are wild and beautiful, and parts of it are industrial and modified by 26 hydropower dams.

I was planning a vacation to the Boundary Waters when our state’s budget was finalized. Saddened by the reduction in support for conservation and natural resources in our state, I felt like I had to do something, and other people were asking me what could they do? So I decided to vacation in Wisconsin and paddle our namesake river, along the way talking about what every person can do to help.

I hoped to rejuvenate myself by living outdoors for 18 days while meeting/paddling with others along the river and sharing the many ways we all care for our beautiful state.

Coincidentally, Donate buttonthe Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin is beginning to celebrate our 30th anniversary. As one of the best conservation organizations nobody’s heard of, I hoped that this trip would bring some attention to the good work the Foundation does making grants for public land management, research and monitoring of rare species, and our incredible field trip program that takes people to all the special corners of our state exploring its wildlife, plants and waters.

I launched my little red boat on Sunday, Sept. 27. We tracked my progress right here with daily blogs and photos of our state and its people. You can also see pictures, videos and audio from the trip on Twitter (with hashtag #IHeartWI) and on Facebook.

(Photos by Greg Larson, Greg Larson Photography)


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Trip-related blog posts:

Paddling for the love of Wisconsin: The

By Ruth Oppedahl, Natural Resources Foundation This article was originally published in the Winter 2015 edition of Bridges, the member newsletter of the Natural Resources Foundation. When my mother turned 50 years old, she joined a group of women who were training to hike the Grand Canyon. She filled my...

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GoPro video from the I Heart Wisconsin:

During her travels, Ruth would turn on the GoPro video at the front her kayak for a few minutes everyday. We strung that video together, put some music to it and invite you to witness all of the beauty Ruth encountered on her adventure....

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A special I Heart Wisconsin thank you fr


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Day XVIII: The last leg of the I Heart W

Listen to Ruth tell the story of her last day on the Wisconsin River: Day XVIII transcribed:  Last day of the I Heart Wisconsin River Trip. I woke up this morning to the sound of birds flying overhead. I was completely socked in by the fog. I couldn’t even see...

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Day XVII: Campfire magic and sandbar liv

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day XVII:  Day XVII transcribed: Today I traveled from Muscoda Village campground down to the Wauzeka wildlife area. It’s— what I think is—my longest day on the river at about 25 or 26 miles. I was joined for camping and this morning by...

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Meeting up with Ruth on the river

By Bill Keen, Foundation member How to meet up with Ruth on her extraordinary journey?  We decided that the only day possible was Sunday the 11th. Next step was to email the NRF office and Camille, who got the word to Ruth that we would join her in Arena.  Once...

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Day VII and VIII Revisited: Learning fro

By Mike Mossman As my wife Lisa and I stood on the sandy banks of the Wisconsin River at the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s Leopold Memorial Reserve last Thursday evening, awaiting Ruth’s arrival, I was grateful to know Sauk County as my home. It has been a conservation hotbed since even...

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Ruth’s River Angels: The Heart of

By Lisa Charron, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin At the Natural Resources Foundation, we are amazed by all of the “River Angels” who have stepped up to help Ruth out. They’ve opened their homes and their kitchens, shared their river stories and their conservation efforts, guided her through tough waters,...

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Day XVI: Striving for clean air, clean w

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day XVI:  Day XVI transcribed:  This is the October 12 blog. I want to start with a list of towns that I’ve been in so people have an idea about the route of the Wisconsin River. The closest town at the start is...

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Day XV: Going with the FLOW, and cranes

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day XV:  Day XV transcribed: This is the blog post for Sunday, Oct. 11, day 15. This morning started with a welcome by Timm Zumm of the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin, FLOW. Their motto is “go with the flow.” Timm came to...

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Day XIV: Westerly winds

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day XIV: Today I’m totally defeated by the wind and waves on Lake Wisconsin. I started out at 9 a.m. this morning after Pete Ostlind helped me go over the boat. We did a little extra patching, he replaced a rivet on the...

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Day XIII: The beauty of birds

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day XIII:   Day XIII transcribed: We woke up on the site of the Aldo Leopold Shack and it was a morning of learning and discovery for me. Mike Mossman and Yoyi Steele, who work on the Leopold Pines Important Bird Area, were...

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Day XII: Aldo Leopold, campfires and the

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day XII: I’ll start with the ending of the day. I pulled up on the right side of the Wisconsin River at the site of Aldo Leopold’s shack. What an inspiration to be coming down this river that he was so familiar with,...

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Paddling Through History

By Lisa Charron, Natural Resources Foundation All my life, I’ve walked through the woods and imagined what it would have been like to do so long ago. What would a Winnebago Native American see from atop this hill? What potential did Wisconsin’s first fur traders see in this stream or...

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Day XI: Rock, stone and floating boats

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day XI:  Day XI transcribed: This is the Oct. 7 blog for day 11 on the river. I first wanted to start out answering a few questions people have asked. One is about if my boat is still leaking–it is. When I was...

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Day X: Stevens Points and the gifts of w

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day X: Day X transcribed: This is the blog for Oct. 6, day 10, in Stevens Point. A couple of weeks ago when I was talking about this trip with Tracy Hames at the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, Tracy hatched an idea that ended...

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Day IX: Mystery mussels and outstanding

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day IX: Day IX transcribed:  This is the blog post for Oct. 5, day nine, Merrill to Wausau. Today three good Samaritans helped me out and really made a huge difference and I wanted to say thank you. I was kind of whiny...

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Day VIII in video (Sunday, Oct. 4)

Coots Grandfather dam portage Grandfather Falls dam Go Packers!...

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Day VII: Homer Simpson and shoe goo to t

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day VII: Day VII transcribed: This was the stretch of the river from Menard Island into Tomahawk. This morning was a really great day because I reached my one hundredth mile on the trip! But before I got there, oh boy.    ...

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Day VI: Escaping time, and celebrating D

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day VI:  Day VI transcribed: This was a really special day, and I want to thank the people who paddled with me today because that’s what made it incredible. One thing I’ve noticed about this whole trip so far—I’ve been out since Sunday...

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Day V: Waterfowl and wild rice (Thursday

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day V: Day V transcribed: Today is Thursday, Oct. 1, day five of the I Heart Wisconsin: River Trip. Today started with a freezing night, it was about 36 degrees and it was pretty cold, so I’m going to make some adjustments to...

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Day IV: Spectacular wildlife encounters&

Listen to Day IV in Ruth’s voice: Transcription of Day IV: Today is Sept. 30 and I’m on day four of the I Heart Wisconsin River Trip. This was a day of drama. Drama in a good way, and drama in a not-so-good way. The first drama: this morning, I...

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Day IV: In video

Day IV of the I Heart Wisconsin: River Trip took Ruth through the Rainbow Flowage, a wildlife paradise, and to a beautiful campground for the evening. Follow along through these short video vignettes Ruth shot throughout the day:         Rainbow Flowage Beavers Wilderness Paradise Bald Eagle Campsite...

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Day III: Winding waters and the power of

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day III of the I Heart Wisconsin: River Trip: Day III transcribed: Today is Tuesday, Sept. 29 and it’s day three of the I Heart Wisconsin trip. Today I kayaked from Eagle River down to the County O boat landing, which was just...

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Day II: Lunar eclipses and millions of s

Listen to Ruth tell the story of Day II in her own voice:  Day II transcribed: Today is Monday, Sept. 28, day number two. This was an interesting day of paddling. We went from about mile eight to mile 35. The upper reach of the headwaters is a huge, winding...

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Day I: Beaver dams and heavy boats (Sund

We put in at Lac Vieux Desert Lake around 8 a.m. Sunday morning. The wild rice bed in the distance fringed the shore. The sky was clear. I was lucky to have two friends join me for the start: Denny Caneff of the River Alliance and Bryan Pierce of the...

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Wired up…

…and ready to go!           I’ve got: Two cellphones A waterproof camera A Gopro Spot satellite transmitter beacon Pocket radio am fm Kindle for books Battery packs Solar charger...

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“Be safe”

  I’ve been hearing this phrase quite a bit this week as friends and family give me best wishes for a great trip. Usually it’s said in a way of showing care for my well-being, and sometimes there is a tinge of “be careful.” I appreciate both messages. There are...

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Kayak assembly in timelapse

Assembling my seaworthy kayak from a pile of aluminum and canvas. Guest starring Laker, the dog.        ...

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Pre-trip shakedowns

Ahead of my trip, I’ve been out on a few kayaking adventures to test my equipment, make sure all of my supplies will fit in the boat and strengthen my rowing muscles. While out on some of these pre-trip shakedowns, I was greeted by bald eagles, heard the call of the...

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