UVM student’s kayak voyage aims to call attention to health of Lake Champlain

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 4:03 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A University of Vermont student is paddling the length of Lake Champlain in the hopes of making waves, and a film. It’s all in an effort to listen and learn, while encouraging others to step up conservation efforts.

For the next 10 days or so, Jordan Rowell will wake up along the coast of Lake Champlain, check the weather, and hop in his kayak. “I’m going to leave Button Bay here shortly and come around the point, and then I’ve got to cross the lake and get to the New York side, " Rowell said.

The UVM student from Essex Junction isn’t an avid kayaker. In fact, this two-week mission is about much more than a fun time in the sun. He is paddling the length of Lake Champlain, from Whitehall, New York, to the northern end of Missisquoi Bay. The voyage is not to raise money or seek attention, but to listen. “We’re all aware of these issues. What we need is everybody to raise a hand and volunteer to become a more active steward of Lake Champlain,” he said.

After returning from a tromp out west, Rowell enrolled in classes at UVM. “And the first class I took there was this class where we talked all about Lake Champlain. And I realized even though I’d grown up five miles from the lake, I didn’t know that much about it,” he said.

Now, he’s changing that. Paddling his way through the water and talking with stewards of the lake as he goes. Those stewards take all different shapes -- local farmers, the Abenaki community, and water quality scientists. “The biggest issues Lake Champlain faces are different depending on who you talk to, and that’s the biggest reason why I’m taking this journey,” Rowell said.

He says anglers may complain about invasive species, swimmers may complain about sewage treatment or cyanobacteria, but that those are all symptoms of a larger issue. “I think all these issues stem from the root cause, which is humans don’t have a sustainable relationship with a natural resource -- Lake Champlain,” Rowell said.

What he hears is being recorded by a local team of filmmakers following along on his adventure. The plan is to turn it into the “Lake Champlain Film.” He says the project has three main goals: Encourage people to get out on the lake, get people to consider other’s points of view, and empower people to become more active stewards of the lake.

But first, he says they need people to watch and listen. “Too many of us feel as though it’s somebody else’s lake and somebody else’s problem, but if we can come together and see this all as a public resource that we all have a hand in protecting, then we’ll do a much better job of it,” Rowell said.

The film’s target audience is local schools, but Rowell says they’re hoping it will also make its way to outdoor film circuits by next spring. In the meantime, the journey is being documented across a handful of social media platforms.

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