By Jeff Wilson
Rising waters on the Mississippi River won’t stop Greg Nejmanwoski, but they may slow him down.
“There are some closures to all recreational boating along some of the sections of the Mississippi,” he said via email on June 5. “Fingers crossed, I’m hoping they will be lifted as I approach in the later days of June. If there are sections of the river closed by the time I paddle to them, I’ll wait it out.”
Nejmanowski is canoeing the entire length of the Mississippi to raise funds for Touch of Nature’s Veteran Adventures program and bring awareness to other issues that affect veterans.
Donations can be made by visiting the Paddle for Patriots SalukiFunder page at https://salukifunder.siu.edu/project/15565.
As of June 5, his expedition down the Mississippi River had taken him a good distance through Minnesota. The 2,300-mile trip down the mighty Mississippi began in Itasca State Park in Minnesota and will end in the Gulf of Mexico.
“This project has been my baby,” said Nejmanowski, an SIU alumnus, Touch of Nature graduate assistant and Veteran Adventures coordinator. “It’s definitely been a lot of work, but I think it’ll be worth it and then some.”
Veteran Adventures offers outdoor activities to post-9/11 veterans, including hunting, hiking, backpacking trips, whitewater rafting and more. The program is funded through grants and private donations, and it just recently lost a large state grant.
There are two planned events happening along the way, floodwaters permitting.
The first will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 6 at The Loading Dock in Grafton, just north of St. Louis. There will be food and drink for sale and raffles, including a free chance at a Discovery Flight, which allows participants to briefly take the controls of an in-flight airplane.
The second will be from noon to 3 p.m. July 13 at Devil’s Backbone Park. The same raffle opportunities will be available.
“There are no back-up plans for the two events if they don’t happen because of water issues,” he said. “There is a potential for pushing them back, but I’m not too sure about that yet.”
Nejmanowski hopes he can raise awareness not only of Veteran Adventures, but of the needs to veterans everywhere, including the scourge of veteran suicides.
According a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans die each day from suicide. That’s approximately double the suicide rate of non-veterans.
“We all know from anecdotal evidence how going outside can help you,” Nejmanowski said. “I feel like sometimes medicine has advanced and progressed so far that we have left nature — some of the best medicine in the world — behind.”