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Project highlights clean river by rowing to Gulf

Seven paddlers are taking a modern-day expedition down the Mighty Mississippi River starting today from Lake Bemidji State Park. Among them are, from left, Max Atwood, Brett Rogers, Sarah Stewart, Magnus Anderson, Kyle Jeffery and Cliff Quinn. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

They have a dream to bring attention to the quality of the water on the Mighty Mississippi.

Seven paddlers -- six from Ontario, Canada, and one from Australia -- will leave Lake Bemidji State Park this morning for the 2,400-mile expedition down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico on a 32-foot, 800-pound York boat constructed by several of its team members.

It's a modern-day expedition titled "Old Man River Project." The project plans to rediscover the Mississippi River with the intent of supporting the mission of the Lower Mississippi River Keeper, which is part of Robert F. Kennedy Jr,'s Waterkeeper Alliance. Using modern technology, they will document the expedition through words, images and video so others can experience the Mississippi River online with them.

The three-month dream is that of Brett Rogers, 27. "Everyone has the right to safely swim, safely drink and safely fish without getting sick from contaminated water," he says.

It's the third such quest for Rogers. In 2004, he made a wooden raft and traveled the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories with a team of friends, and in 2006, he went down the Yukon River, documenting both trips and raising funds for the Alzheimer's Society.

The expedition team includes Australian Magnus Anderson, 23; and Canadians Max Attwood, 23; Cliff Quinn, 32; Sarah Stewart, 25; Kyle Jeffery, 25; and, Doug Copping, 27.

The York boat, a flat bottom boat widely used in this region by fur traders to haul freight until the 1910s, will be rowed by its crew. Once in deeper water, it has a sail.

"We all have a diverse background but we're all focused on the same goal -- our environment," said Copping.

After the expedition the boat will be donated to the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper. "We named the boat Annie in honor of a young girl in Ohio who donated toward the building of the boat," Copping said.

At the stern of the boat hanging from a hockey stick is the Lower Mississippi River flag. On the side of the boat is a Web address so people can connect with their cause, their stories and images --

They said they have plenty of, duct tape, tarps, bungee cords and a spirit to make a difference.

"We are all bound by our need for water," Copping said.