A Kayaking Mission for Clean Water

A Grand River voyage raises funds and awareness for Water for People
A Kayaking Mission for Clean Water
Linda De Kock at Grand Lake on Aug. 26, 2015 — Day 1 of the Grand River Voyage to WEFTEC.

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With each stroke of their kayak paddles and each pedal of their bicycles, Gary and Linda De Kock are raising money for Water for People … all while learning about the value of clean water.

The retired couple from Grand Rapids, Michigan, paddled and pedaled their way to the Water Environment Federation’s WEFTEC conference in Chicago this September, after having successfully navigated the Mississippi River enroute to the 2014 WEFTEC conference in New Orleans, Louisiana (see “Witnesses for Water”).

Their journeys have raised more than $27,000 so far, with more contributions coming in to support Grand River voyage.

Retiring with an impact
“When we retired (Gary from the Grand Rapids wastewater treatment plant, Linda from a career as a vocational rehab counselor), we wanted to do something that would have a big impact,” says Gary.

“Something related to water seemed like a good way to accomplish this. So we started raising money and increasing awareness of Water for People (the international nonprofit working in nine countries to provide sanitation and safe drinking water).”

Their 2015 voyage started in Grand Lake, the headwaters of the Grand River south of Jackson, Michigan.

“For our first six days on the river, we used our 16-foot polyethylene tandem kayak because of rocks, trees and low water,” says Gary.

At Eaton Rapids, however, they switched to their larger 22-foot British-made Aleut Sea II kayak, and stroked their way to Grand Haven where the river reaches Lake Michigan. They had travelled 258 miles in 14 days.

Once in Lake Michigan, they turned south and paddled 51 miles in two days to South Haven, where they put in because of storms.

Stormy weather
With the lake roiled up and windy, they decided to ride their bikes the rest of the way to Chicago — 128 miles — arriving at Grant Park on the lakefront on Sept. 19 after travelling a total of 437 miles in 25 days. While at WEFTEC, they helped out at the “Jamming for Water” event on Sept. 26. They also participated in the “Pedal With Purpose” ride on Sept. 27, and the video of their Mississippi River voyage in 2014 was shown at the opening general session of the Chicago WEFTEC conference on Monday, Sept. 28. That trip, from northern Minnesota to New Orleans, took the De Kocks 10 weeks to complete.

Although the main purpose of the voyages has been to increase awareness of and funding for Water for People, Gary and Linda now recognize other benefits of the experience.

“We carry our own water and we don’t always spend the night in official campgrounds,” Linda explains, which means the couple must pay attention to water conservation and be careful about disposing of wastes.

“On the Mississippi we had to carry up to a three-day supply of fresh water,” she says. “We’ve learned firsthand what it’s like not having a well or sanitation facilities. That’s been a good story to bring home to people.”

Michigan WEA prompted interest
The De Kocks — who started canoeing as youngsters growing up in Michigan — say their interest in Water for People stems from involvement in the Michigan Water Environment Association. Gary currently chairs the Michigan WEA’s Water for People committee.

Water for People, of course, follows the voyages of the De Kocks closely and applauds their fundraising efforts.

“Gary and Linda are amazing supporters of Water For People,” says Eleanor Allen, Water for People CEO. “Not only do they pedal and paddle with purpose to raise awareness and funds for our mission to end water poverty globally, they lead by example. They inspire others to think beyond themselves and pay forward the luxuries we have taken for granted - like clean water and a toilet.”

“There is so much competition for people’s attention,” says Gary, “and so many people doing good things, we felt the voyages were a good way to come up with a good story. The Mississippi venture was a good way to kick things off, and the Grand River trip brought regional attention to the need.”

They don’t have specific plans for future voyages, but you can bet they’ll be raising funds and awareness for worldwide water needs in any way they can.

You can help by accessing their Facebook page — Paddle with Purpose River Voyages — or going to the Grand River Voyage page on Crowdrise. Simply follow the donate prompts to contribute.


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