Canoes become community's journey

The Kettle Falls Historical Center (KFHC) is currently home to a curious scene. A group of six to seven men, ranging in age from early twenties to middle-aged are gathered around an enormous old-growth cedar log protected from the elements by erected tarps. The repetitive sound of metal hitting wood and the tangy smell of wood chips permeate the air. A combined effort by Voyages of Rediscovery of Chewelah, representatives from the Mississippi River Forum (1 Mississippi) and a handful of dedicated participants, this elder tree and four others like it, some red cedar and some pine, are being transformed into handcrafted canoes. The small group of men has been camping at the KFHC since Aug. 19, hollowing out the first of five hand-dug canoes that will be donated back to the community. So why the philanthropy? According to Adam Wicks-Arshuck of Voyages of Rediscovery, the goal of the project is to raise awareness of river health and water quality through recreation. “The best way to do that is by encouraging people to be a part of something like this,” says Wicks-Arshuck. “We would love to have people come down here, ask us questions about what we’re doing and to get involved.” Voyages of Rediscovery have a history of propagating the canoe as both a recreational water vehicle and an educational tool. The organization was a part of last year’s David Thompson Centennial and has ventured as far north as Ontario to create canoes with the Temagami First Nation (a.k.a. Deep Water People). Want to build a canoe? For this particular project, the organization is putting out a call to interested individuals and groups to assist them in the project through donations of labor or food to keep the volunteers’ energy up. The group will remain at KFHC indefinitely until the canoes are finished. Youth groups, church groups, sports teams, clubs, or interested individuals---anyone and every one are welcome to stop in, talk to the guys and lend a helping hand. There are also free canoe rides during the weekends. “It’s easy to forget in the rat-race of our daily lives what a beautiful area we live in,” says volunteer Tom Eier. “This river is really a wonderful place for us to be close to. I would think that you would want to keep that river clean for your grandkids and their children.” The five trees being turned into canoes, valued at around $10,000, were donated by the Idaho Forest Group and brought over by logging truck. The logs were taken down to the Kettle Falls Marina where they were floated to see which side of the trunk should be hollowed out (the main indicator being whichever side floats up is the one you want to sit in). The main tools the group utilizes are shaping ends, crosscut saw and adzes, a tool used for smoothing or carving rough-cut wood in hand woodworking. John Ruskey, a representative of the Mississippi River Forum who drove all the way with a friend from Clarksdale to assist with the project, says that recreation on the water leads to better understanding of marine life and health, which leads to better treatment of natural resources. “I think that it’s really cool to recreate something that people have been doing for thousands of years,” says Ruskey, who has been making canoes for over a decade. “I’ve always loved this art form and it’s a simple, elegant way to get out on the water.” For more information on the KFHC Canoe Project and/or free canoe rides, go to or call Wicks-Arshuck at 917-684-4247.