Group overcoming snags to get educational boat up and runningFor the Minnesota Youth Waters Project, finding a boat was relatively straightforward. Restoring it also went pretty smoothly.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
For the Minnesota Youth Waters Project, finding a boat was relatively straightforward. Restoring it also went pretty smoothly.
But then came a problem with the rudder. And then the challenge of finding a qualified captain. And now, there's the dilemma with the keel, which may be misshapen, meaning the engine is not properly positioned.
What's more, like many renovation projects, the budget is in the red - by about $3,000.
"We didn't realize how many glitches. We didn't realize how many bumps (there would be)," said Mary Jo Cristofaro-Hark, of Minnesota Youth Waters Project.
MYWP is a non-profit organization whose mission is to get young people out on the Mississippi River with the intention of teaching them about the environment, river research and conservation. Currently, their main project is restoring a 43-foot wood trawler, which will be their tool to give kids those all-important hands-on experiences on the river.
The organization began a few years ago, when Cristofaro-Hark was volunteering at a teambuilding event put on by her children's school, Northfield School of Arts and Technology - ARTech for short.
"We were talking about projects," she said, when she remembered helping on a river cleanup and seeing hulls of sunken boats being pulled from the Mississippi.
That got the gears turning, and she brought up the idea of restoring one of those hulls for the kids to use to explore the river.
"They got excited," Cristofaro-Hark said. So she, along with her husband Peter Hark, who has a master's degree in experimental education, set out to get the project off the ground.
The first step was finding one of those recovered hulls that could be restored. The project changed forms slightly when Red Wing resident Robert Schleicher heard about the project and donated his 43-foot Cyprus wood trawler to the organization.
"When I was a boy, I used to stand by the river and wonder where it went. I was very attached to the river all my life," Schleicher said.
Schleicher had spent nine years living on the boat, but it had been in storage for the last ten years. MYWP seemed like the perfect use for the vessel.
"It's a well-built boat built in 1986," Schleicher said. "I thought, 'I'm not able to sell it (but) if just one kid finds his way on the river..."
That was about two years ago, Schleicher said, and Cristofaro-Hark and ARTech students have spent the last two May terms sanding, rebuilding, repainting and renovating the boat at Cristofaro-Hark's farm outside Northfield.
To raise money for the project, the students held numerous fundraisers, everything from taco feeds to car washes to carnation sales around Valentine's Day - "every fundraiser you could imagine," Cristofaro-Hark said.
The group also received donations from people like Chad Pregracke, founder of Living Lands and Waters, an organization whose mission is to clean up rivers.
Everything was set for the group's first Mississippi river trip this spring, and the restored boat was transported to Red Wing and put in the water.
But it was quickly discovered that a problem with the rudder would mean the boat couldn't be used.
And since then, other things have gone wrong, too.
Schleicher, who had originally signed up to serve as the group's captain, resigned due to health problems. Cristofaro-Hark said finding another captain wasn't easy.
"(It's) really hard just because all of this is volunteer," Cristofaro-Hark said.
MYWP was just recently able to come up with three people - Teresa Opitz, Bob Deck and Kevin Traster - willing to serve as volunteer captains.
Now, with that hurdle behind them, the group discovered the problem with the keel.
"Because (the boat) was blocked for so long, (the keel) is in a different shape than it needs to be. The engine is not in the right place," Cristofaro-Hark said.
The price tag for the fix would strain their budget, which has already been pushed passed its limits. Cristofaro-Hark said she's applying for grants and relying on community donations to get the vessel running.
"People are still being really supportive," she said.
Still, all of the problems the group has encountered haven't seemed to dampen their spirits too much, and they remain hopeful they can get the boat fixed and use it the way they intended to.
"We're hoping youth can get on the boat and experience the river - studying invertebrates, mussels... doing river clean up," she said. "We're still plugging along."
How you can help
The Minnesota Youth Waters Project is accepting donations on its website: www.mnyouthwaters.org.