As One River, Many Stories came to a close in its official capacity, we asked participants to comment on their experiences with the project. Do you have a comment on your experience with One River, Many Stories? Post it in the comment section.

Participant Comments

Ivy Vainio is a Duluth photographer known for her powwow photos. She was a panelist at our photography skills session and was one of the most prolific contributors to the project with both her photography and her social media interactions. Her St. Louis River: Diverse Connections exhibit at the Duluth Art Institute introduced many people in the community to One River, Many Stories. She says of the project:

Photo of Stephan Witherspoon courtesy of Ivy Vainio

Photo of Stephan Witherspoon courtesy of Ivy Vainio

“One River, Many Stories changed my life as a photographer for the better.  I’ve always want to challenge myself with this art form, and this project really did that.  It directed me in focusing, and relating my images, on one subject – the St. Louis River.  One big challenge was the winter season – where the river was iced over and snow covered when I took my photographs. My approach was to go along as if it was summer time with all of my photo shoots.  I loved the people that I photographed for the exhibition.  Each person had a significant and powerful connection to the river, and hearing their river stories while I photographed them was empowering.  I am forever grateful to have been part of this amazing, and engaging, project that brought all of our communities together.”

Eric Chandler is a writer, outdoor enthusiast, family man, and Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has published in a number of magazines and journals, and he created more original written content for the project than any other individual. Here is his take on One River:

Photo from courtesy of Eric Chandler

Photo from courtesy of Eric Chandler

“I like seeing things from a new perspective. The One River, Many Stories project was cool because I used it as an opportunity to see differently. I write about the outdoors a lot. When I thought about the river, I realized I had a lot of stories that were both directly and indirectly connected to the river. It made me realize how much I take the river for granted. Also, I travel a lot for work, so I enjoyed the social media aspect of the project. I could participate with my writing without being physically present. I love this town and I want to contribute. I’m still amazed by the internet and how it makes me feel connected to the place I live, even when I’m on the road.”

Aaron Brown, also known as Minnesota Brown, is an Iron Range writer, radio producer and college instructor. He was a
panelist at the One River, Many Stories event “PolyMet: How journalists report on tough issues in their community,” and here he reflects on his connections to the project:
“For me, the One River/Many Stories project was a chance to be a part of something that was so important to my mentor Mike Simonson. I miss him. This was a way to carry on his legacy and use some of the skills he helped me unlock. Further, it’s about time that more people think about the St. Louis River. It’s funny I had to be invited into a project like this to remember all the ways the river intersects with my life on the Iron Range.”
 Sheila Packa is a poet, writer, and teacher who served as Duluth’s poet laureate from 2010-2012. She hosted a poetry night at Beaner’s Central for One River, Many Stories, and she read her poem “St. Louis River Route” for WDSE‘s River Stories collection. Here are her comments on the One River, Many Stories project:
“I grew up near the St. Louis River on the Iron Range, south of Biwabik in Lakeland.  Twenty miles away from where I grew up, my paternal grandmother lived in Zim and my paternal grandfather in Sax (near the peat bog) also near the St. Louis River. My maternal grandparents (also from Finland) settled in Toivola. The St Louis River measures about 31 miles in length in McDavitt township — that’s the Zim and Sax area — and in this region, the river is narrow and winds through the landscape. I used to swim in the river when I was a child. As a teenager, I used to canoe it. Throughout my life, I have traveled over its many bridges. My poem “St Louis River Route” traces the wildlife and immigrant experience on the landscape as well as my own life.
The One River Many Stories helped build community through workshops, photography, mapping, and story-telling. With the river at the center, a diverse group of people could dialogue about personal, familial, recreational, political, environmental, historic and economic issues.  As a poet, I connect my work to the landscape of northern Minnesota. I’ve written many poems about area rivers, and I use the river as a metaphor.  It has both continuity and change. I was happy to become a part of the project.”
Sam Cook is the Duluth News Tribune outdoors reporter, and he writes the “Outdoors with Sam Cook” column. He was a panelist at our “Storytelling Across Platforms” event, and he reflects on that experience and on his craft:
Panelists at "Storytelling across Platforms." Photo courtesy of Jenna Trenberth.

Panelists at “Storytelling across Platforms.” Photo courtesy of Jenna Trenberth.

“At our ‘Storytelling Across Platforms’ presentation, it was affirming to see a lot of folks turn out to learn more about how Lucie Amundsen, Dan Kraker and myself go about putting together our stories. As in any line of work, there’s always more to it than meets the eye of the casual observer. In a time when many people are skeptical about what they read and hear, I think it’s good for folks to know that most of us work diligently to tell our stories and get them right, no matter the medium.”

Carole Newkumet of the River Corridor Coalition attended One River events and comments:

“Looking at the River through so many different media perspectives was really informative. Mapping the River was a real eye opener; & the stories people  shared about their relationship to the River reminded me how I carelessly take it for granted. My thanks to whoever came up with the project idea & to all those who made it possible. I’m glad so much of it was archived & I hope that this is not the end of an everlasting story. Kudos to all.”

Deanna Erickson is the Education Coordinator for the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve. She says of One River, Many Stories:

Photo of Deanna Erickson and Aijah Keith courtesy of Deanna Erickson.

“What I learned from the months of stories is how important the River is to us.  So many of us want to talk about it, write about it, and share in it.  I’m grateful to know that people in my community care about the water that flows through it.  This is important for me personally, but also professionally.  The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve depends on a public that is willing to care about the River, learn about it, and engage in its stewardship.”

Hansi Johnson is a Duluth-area adventurer, blogger, and photographer as well as the Director of Recreational Lands for the Minnesota Land Trust. He was a panelist at our photography skill session, and he discusses the ties between the river and community:

Photo courtesy of Hansi Johnson

Photo courtesy of Hansi Johnson

“The narrative of Duluth, Minnesota can not be told without looking towards the St. Louis River.  Over time however that story has not been told in a comprehensive way to the outside world, or even to Duluth’s current residents.  The One River Many Stories project was a great idea that allowed the community to weave a rich, complex narrative that was broad based, as inclusive as possible. The project has helped create a new, positive conversation around what the St. Louis River has meant to Duluth and what it means now and could mean in the future.”

Matt Kania, also known as Map Hero, is an artist and mapmaker, and he was instrumental in the creation of the scale maps of the St. Louis River that were on display at the Duluth Depot through April 2016. Community members added their art and stories to the map to create a rich visual of the river’s life. Here are Matt’s thoughts on the map:

Scale maps of the St. Louis River on display at the Duluth Depot. Photo courtesy of Jenna Trenberth.

Scale maps of the St. Louis River on display at the Duluth Depot. Photo courtesy of Jenna Trenberth.

“It was so satisfying to see such a great number of community members come out to experience the maps on display at the Duluth Art Institute (at The Depot). The map displays were designed to be welcoming and crafted in a way that would foster engagement. I am so glad that we were able to provide a platform for the community to participate!”

Barbara Reyelts is the award-winning News Director for KBJR 6 and Range 11 and KDLH 3 News, and she was a panelist for the “Collaboration vs. Competition” event in February. Here she expands on the event’s topic and on the importance of dynamic journalism:

“Journalism is changing rapidly and “One River, Many Stories” reflects one of the greatest changes.  One River encourages collaborative journalism in which competitive news outlets share information about important stories in an effort to make sure our audience is well informed on issues relating to the environment, particularly the health of the St. Louis River.

The media is competitive and exclusive reports give us bragging rights and ratings.  But more and more these days various media organizations are merging facts and working together to tell the fullest stories.  In a growing number of instances we’ve gone from protecting our exclusives to working with other media outlets, as partners, to publish the best possible joint reports.

We all care about the environment and collaborative or joint reports regarding efforts to clean up and protect the St. Louis River benefit all of us and go beyond competition and exclusives!”

Mike Casey volunteers for the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad, and he recorded his story about the railroad

Mike Casey tells his river story to WDSE crew. Photo courtesy of Natalie Grant.

Mike Casey tells his river story to WDSE crew. Photo courtesy of Natalie Grant.

for WDSE‘s River Stories collection. Here he discusses his story and briefly touches on the roots of Native American peoples in the area:

“I did a video log via the WDSE opportunity at the Depot. I got so many people approaching me about the video that I was amazed at the reach it had. The other stories were so interesting as well.
I really wish our volunteer Bill Dols could have been there. The timing didn’t work out due to health issues. But his story is tied to the Native American history in the Spirit Valley area and how his love for that culture/history and his sons dream of becoming a conductor on a train all fell into place with the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad.
Bill is a narrator or was, his illness may prevent him from narrating this year. He would give more history of the Native American’s as well as speak Ojibwa during his narration. His son Harold has been a conductor for years now. Just a great story of the river and a train providing a platform for two wonderful people taking their time to provide a glimpse into the past for those that ride the train.”

Ed Newman (Ennyman) is a Duluth blogger and art enthusiast who was one of the most active contributors to the One River, Many Stories project. He attended many of our events, and we featured him in our “One River by the Numbers” post due to his participation and quality write-ups of events. Instead of simply giving us a short comment on his experience with the project, Ed wrote an in-depth blog post that reflects on his experience. The entire blog is well-worth the read, and you can find it on his website. Here is a short excerpt:

“[One River, Many Stories] gave me an opportunity to reflect on things I may not have taken time to reflect on otherwise, being immersed in so many other projects. In this case I began as an observer, like fans in the stands who watch to see what the players on the field will do. Somehow I ended up in the game.
It also gave me a chance to see why that Native American community is so woven into this community, in contrast to the East Coast community where I grew up. There the pre-history of European settlers was hundred of years ago, and the native influence has been subsumed. Here, a rich native culture existed a mere hundred-fifty years ago, and has not been subsumed. Many in the arts scene especially appreciate this rich contribution of heritage. So it was that the project One River, Many Stories had two hashtags for accumulating the social media expressions related to this project: #OneRiverMN and #ChiGamiiziibi.”

Molly Hoeg pins her Lake Superior Magazine river story to the map at the DAI during St. Louis River: Diverse Connections, April 4, 2016

Molly Hoeg pins her Lake Superior Magazine river story to the map at the DAI during St. Louis River: Diverse Connections, April 4, 2016

 Molly Hoeg is a Duluth-area writer and outdoorswoman who wrote “One River, Two Islands: A History & Culture Tour on the St. Louis River” for Lake Superior Magazine. She speaks to that experience below:

“My introduction to the One River project came with the story assignment for Lake Superior Magazine. What appealed to me was the opportunity to connect with other writers and be part of something larger than a single story. I’ve met some inspiring people as a result, and took advantage of the community events connected with the project. My favorite was the panel discussion on Storytelling – what great resources we have here in Duluth! It has also given me a much greater perspective       on the St. Louis River and awakened an interest in exploring it further.”

Duluth News Tribune Editor Rick Lubbers was a great supporter of One River, Many Stories. The DNT produced the most original content for the project, which Rick details here:

“Counting briefs, photos and stories, the Duluth News Tribune published at least 14 items mentioning the St. Louis River in the month of April during the One River, Many Stories timespan. The biggest stories included whitewater rafting; sturgeon tracking in the river; mini-tsunamis detected on the river; a reprieve for the scenic railroad along the river; and a feature on the river photo exhibit kicking off the month. The DNT enjoyed participating in the One River, Many Stories project and looks forward to future ventures such as this.”

Stephanie Hemphill is a freelance writer who also writes for and co-edits Agate, a new on-line magazine that focuses on the people and environment of the western Great Lakes. She wrote pieces such as this one covering wild rice restoration on the St. Louis River, and she was a panelist at the “PolyMet: How journalists report on tough community issues” event in March. She has the following to say about One River, Many Stories:

“I was delighted to learn about this community project, but a bit skeptical about the topic, because I thought few people think much about the St. Louis River – we tend to concentrate on Lake Superior.  But I was pleasantly surprised to see the range of topics and variety of points of view that were expressed in the series.  I expect the project’s high profile will encourage even more of us to value the river in years to come.”

Tom Isbell is a playwright, author, and Professor of Theatre for the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is currently working on the One River, Many Stories play. Listen to an interview with KUMD here and read a comment  (and plug!) below:

“It’s such an honor to build this play and continue the amazing work done by so many: journalists, bloggers, photographers, everyone! And one of the great thrills is speaking with such a wide range of people connected to the river, from geologists to historians to poets. I can’t wait to finish the play and get it in the hands of designers and actors. Annnnnd… at our Wednesday, October 5th performance, we will honor and recognize anyone and everyone associated with the One River, Many Stories project. More details to come!”

Photo courtesy of Eddy Gilmore

Photo courtesy of Eddy Gilmore

Eddy Gilmore is a self-described writer, adventurer, and explorer. He wrote of his epic adventure to Clough Island for One River, Many Stories, and here he details how the project changed his perception of the river, storytelling, and himself:

“The project was great. Due to some friendly peer pressure, I waded far more deeply into the River’s story than I ever would have on my own. I never realized just how rich this story was previously, and walked away from the experience having been enriched. In fact, by entering into the story, I was changed. During one of the events y’all put on at Bent Paddle, I thrilled in actually being on top of the river in a kayak instead, while being with you in spirit. It was at that moment that I finally felt and understood the power of symphonic storytelling in community.

I hope this grand symphony will continue in the future by encouraging us all to gather around another landmark: geographic, historic, or even ethnographic.”


Photo of kayaks on Clough Island courtesy of Eddy Gilmore

Natalie Grant interning at WDSE. Photo courtesy of Natalie Grant.

Natalie Grant interning at WDSE. Photo courtesy of Natalie Grant.

Natalie Grant is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and she interned for The Playlist on WDSE though One River, Many Stories’ internship program. She edited the WDSE River Stories series which featured Sheila Packa, Mike Casey, Paula Vang, Stephan Witherspoon, and Sharon Rogers. Read about her internship experience:

“Working as an intern with the One River project was an amazing experience! Before the project, the St. Louis River was something that I didn’t think about being a part of Duluth culture. Now I understand the effect that the river has on so many people; it’s really extraordinary!

Experiences and connections that I gained from working with the project are things that they can’t teach you in the classroom! I had the pleasure of working with Karen Sunderman at WDSE and learned so much from her about working in my desired field while capturing so many wonderful stories.

The St. Louis River will always have a special place in my heart after being a part of this community.”