Jay Gustafson, known as Waterway Jay, is spearheading a project called Paddle for Progress, which is galvanizing Minnesotans to take pride and ownership of the freshwater ecosystems that make our state unique. In partnership with local nonprofit and state agencies that are committed to water quality issues, together we can find the solutions needed to protect and preserve our waterways. Jay’s vision and ours fall right in line with each other, and we’re proud to have his voice here on our blog. Give this a read and stay up to date on Jay’s progress!
The mission of Paddle for Progress is to galvanize Minnesotans to take pride and ownership of the freshwater ecosystems that make our state unique.
In partnership with local nonprofit and state agencies that are committed to water quality issues, together we can find the solutions needed to protect and preserve our waterways.
Although I was born and raised in South Dakota, I’ve felt a connection to Minnesota since my childhood. I fell in love with paddling on a father/son trip to the Boundary Waters at age 12. I could have never guessed that 20 years later, I would find myself feeling called to make my life’s work protecting the waters that I first discovered at such an early age.
I moved to Minnesota in 2006 upon graduating from the University of South Dakota. Soon after, I learned that in addition to endless paddling opportunities in the BWCAW, Minnesota offered a tremendous resource on it’s 34 mapped river water trails. After spending nearly every summer adventuring out of Ely, over time, I was spending more and more time adventuring on rivers such as the Rum, Snake, and St. Croix.
In 2016, my cousin Jeremy and I decided that we would pursue our long-held dream of paddling the Mississippi River from source to sea. On June 1st of that year, we began what would be an odyssey not soon to be forgotten. Traveling through 10 states and paddling over 2361 miles, we were amazed by the kindness and generosity of others from northern Minnesota down to the southern reaches of Louisiana. Waking up each morning to enjoy creation helps you realize that there is nothing greater than setting forth each day with a purpose and a passion.
Upon my return to reality in September, I found myself becoming increasingly restless at my job of nearly 10 years. As I began exploring next steps, Governor Dayton’s call for a Year of Water Action caught my interest. I was deeply troubled when I learned that 40% of our states water was considered impaired. How I wondered, could a state that is known for clean water, environmentalism, and civic engagement have nearly half of it’s water contaminated and unsuitable for aquatic life and recreation?
The more I read about the state of Minnesota’s water, the more concerned I became. Having had the space and time on the Mississippi River to understand what the pursuit of a passion felt like, I decided I could no longer stay on the sidelines. I decided I needed to do something. I started, Paddle for Progress.
In July 2017, I resigned from my job of 10 years and began paddling in their entirety the 34 rivers mapped by the DNR in order to raise awareness across the state about our water quality crisis. I believe it is imperative that the people of Minnesota understand the threats facing our water, and the steps needed to reverse course.
My goal in paddling these rivers goes beyond raising the alarm about the need for further action however. I am also making maintenance recommendations to the DNR for campsites, landings, and channel conditions. Additionally, I volunteer with the Pollution Control Agency through their Citizen Stream Monitoring Program.
I am wholly committed to protecting and preserving the water we have in Minnesota as I believe it is our states greatest asset. Whether it is the Boundary Waters or the lakes and rivers across the Minnesota landscape, we all have a role to play. The connectedness of water and our connection to it can be mistaken as an outdoor recreation or sportsman only issue. It would be shortsighted to think of water in these limited terms however. We base our economy through tourism and agriculture on water. We have a thriving craft beer and food truck industry that is not possible without water. We go up north, relax, and vacation around water. Most importantly, every day we turn on the tap to eat, drink, and bathe because of access to clean and reliable sources of water.
Please join me in becoming part of the solutions to sustain and improve our water across Minnesota. Let us all work together to stop the degradation of this precious resource and let us together fight back against interests that threaten our beloved Boundary Waters and watershed’s across the state.
Track Waterway Jay’s Journey
You can follow Gustafson’s progress on his website: https://www.waterwayjay.com. He can also be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter searching: @waterwayjay. Updates on rivers, events, photos, and progress will be available throughout his journey.
Help Along the Way
Gustafson is actively seeking support through funding and logistics to continue his work on, Paddle for Progress. A list of remaining rivers and tentative dates is below if you can assist with transport. Waterway Jay also has an active GoFundMe campaign set up that can be accessed at the following address: https://www.gofundme.com/paddle-for-progress.
If you or an organization you are involved in would like to find ways to partner with Waterway Jay, please contact him directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
St. Louis River: June 13-20
Cloquet River: June 22-25
South Fork of the Crow River: June 28-July 3
Mississippi River: July 6-30
Big Fork River: August 2-8
Little Fork River: August 14-19
Vermillion River: August 26-27
Kettle River: August 29-31
Otter Tail River: September 5-11
Red River of the North: September 12-30
Red Lake River: October 2-7
Crow Wing River: October 9-13
St. Croix River: October 15-21