Big dreams, tiny race

Elementary school classes will set sail decorated miniature canoes along 190 miles of the Missouri River
Thursday, April 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:56 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

In a fictional story called “Pierre’s River Adventure,” young Pierre and his father canoe down the Missouri River, trading furs and having the time of their lives.

The story became the basis for a project involving fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in almost 125 classrooms across mid-Missouri.

In addition to the story, a miniature canoe was delivered to each classroom to be named and decorated for the “Great Canoe Race of 2004” on Saturday. In the race, the 15-inch-long canoes will float the Missouri from Brunswick, northwest of Columbia, to Augusta, west of St. Louis, a voyage of about 190 river miles.

The story by David Menke, vice chairman of the River Valley Development Committee, is meant to serve as an educational and adventurous tale for children. The race is a further attempt to bring appreciation and knowledge of the river to students, said Jack Ryan, the committee’s chairman. The River Valley Development Committee is sponsoring the race.

“The river brings great historical significance to the region and the country,” Ryan said. He said this is the first time for the race.

In Columbia, eight schools are participating.

A canoe from teacher Nicole Obermier’s fourth-grade class at Two Mile Prairie Elementary School took on a patriotic tone. The “Freedom Chaser” was decorated in red, white and blue and bears an American flag sail.

Maddie Delcourt said she named the canoe. “In the United States we have freedom and we like to chase that, so I came up with the name ‘Freedom Chaser.’ ”

Obermier’s class split into five groups — ideas, design, boat-making, people-making and information — to give everyone the chance to participate in the project.

Josh Blythe, a member of the idea team, which dreamed up a theme for the canoe, recognized the importance of the river beyond Pierre’s account. “We wanted to make it patriotic and historical,” Josh said.

In addition to the colors and flags, the “Freedom Chaser” also included clay figurines. Explorers Louis and Clark, their guide, Sacagawea, and a fur trader sit inside the small dugout. The people-making group averted a crisis when, after the fur trader’s head fell off, they repaired him (and secured the safety of the other passengers) with copious amounts of glue.

The dugout at New Haven Elementary School was named “Dawes Discovery” after teacher Nickole Dawes. Mackenzie Martin, who came up with the name, had a rival in Ryan Chandler’s idea, “Louis and Dawes,” but a class vote ruled the day.

The fourth-graders took the bright-yellow canoe provided to them and took turns sketching their names in pencil, then painting over their markings until the outside of the canoe was covered with names and an optional creative symbol — for example, a heart or a star.

“The Great Canoe Race of 2004” is not about finding a winner, though the first canoe that makes it to Augusta — if one does — will be declared the winner, Ryan said. Recovery crews will be at Augusta on Tuesday; the trip is expected to take three days, Ryan said.

“We hope that at least one will make it. We’re going to have crews watching all along the river,” he said. “We’d like to encourage river rats along the way to be on the lookout for them.”

Ryan asks that anyone who finds one of the tiny canoes ensnared along the river between Saturday and Tuesday to toss it back in the current. After that, finders should take out a little capsule inside the canoe that will say which class made it and where it’s from.

“It would be great if they could call the school or us and let us know what happened to it,” he said, “and even better if they want to mail it back to the class.”

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