CHILOQUIN — They may live continents apart, but Tuesday, students from Cochrane, Chile, and students from towns along the Klamath River in California traveled the Wood River together.
As she paddled a stand-up paddle board on Tuesday, 15-year-old Anne Rants shared of stories told to her about the Klamath River while growing up in Somes Bar, Calif., a small town located along the waterway in Siskiyou County.
The high school junior recalled being warned to steer clear of the Klamath River by her grandfather, who is part of the Karuk Tribe.
“I remember that me and my sister, if we went in the water, we would be in big trouble,” Rants said. “And he told us that there was a giant snake, a river snake, that would get us, and there’s a lot of blood red roots, and that was supposedly the blood.”
The story stuck with her, as well as the beauty of the waterway.
Rants is one of nearly two dozen students participating in a cross-cultural exchange program — Rios to Rivers – that brings students who live along the Klamath River as well as Chilean students who live along the Rio Baker in Southern Chile in the Patagonia region, together for a three-week outdoor program.
Rios to Rivers — based in Aspen, Colo., and Cochrane, Chile — is a grassroots organization that has brought them together for a multi-day trip down 120 miles of the Klamath River, which started Saturday. Destination: the Pacific Ocean.
The outing was one of several planned over the course of the week, including a trip to Crater Lake National Park, Sprague River and the Williamson River. Students and guides will end the trip on July 29 by arriving at the “Youth for Rivers Day of Celebration.”
Rants, as well as all those taking part in the program shares a passion for rivers.
“Water is life, and I feel by not doing our service to keep the rivers flowing and natural and clean, we’re doing a disservice to every single person that comes to the rivers after us,” Rants said. “It is such a beautiful, special place. My family, they’ve been there for so many years, and it means a lot to a lot of people.”
Hydro dam connection
What ties the two rivers together? The exchange brings together students from two parts of the world impacted by dams.
“We targeted our outreach in the most rural communities that have a lot of ties to the Klamath River,” said Laurel Genzoli, a leader for the exchange.
“The Baker River is the site of five really large proposed hydroelectric dams and these students and the communities they come from in Chile have been fighting really hard to keep their rivers free from these large dams.”
The dams would be constructed for electricity to be sent north to support the mining industry.
“Part of the reason we chose to work within the Klamath River Watershed is because we’re in a situation where we’ve seen the direct impact of dams on this river, from salmon passage to algae blooms,” Genzoli said. “Our society is ready to remove these dams because we see that they’re causing more damage than good.”
Weston Boyles, founder and director of the program, weighed in on the program’s significance.
“There’s a lot to be learned about this process of dam removal and why are these dams being removed,” Boyles said. “We’re really giving the students the opportunity to think for themselves.”
Chilean students participating in the cross-cultural exchange have already met with the chief executive officer of the company planning to build dams in Chile.
Alejandra Chodil, 15, lives in Cochrane near the Rio Baker, and feels a direct impact. She said the river is central to her social life and is utilized often by her family.
Chodil’s family regularly cross the river by horse or boat and her family owns a farm nearby, where they make boats out of Cypress trees.
Some of her family members have sold the land — which at one time housed their businesses — in order to allow for dam development. Chodil said she hopes to work for a cause that would persuade farmers from selling their farms for further development.
“It’s one of the last great wildernesses of the world,” Boyles said of the Rio Baker.
“Where these students live … No paved roads, it’s very pristine. You can drink the water right out of the river. The industrial world hasn’t arrived there yet, and there’s a huge chance to leave this area as an area of kind of wild nature.”
Running the rivers
Boyles, who said it is the second such exchange, hopes to continue to operate similar trips with enough funding.
“There’s something so wonderful about the goal of running a river with a mission,” Boyles said. “When you have some sort of big journey or adventure that students are taking on, that really does a lot to group dynamics, and I’m so excited to be putting on (the Klamath River) with these students, and the goal to go all the way to the Pacific Ocean is really exciting. We’re going to be river running a little over about 120 miles.”
For some of the students, it is their first time rafting, while others are well-versed in river travel.
Consuelo Andrade Hanke, a school psychologist in Cochrane, is one of the Chilean leaders on the trip. It took the Chilean students and their leaders four days to reach Chiloquin from Chile, starting with an eight-hour bus ride from Cochrane, followed by flights to Santiago and then to Los Angeles.
“I think that this opens their minds,” Andrade said, of the program. “I think it helps them to discover their abilities, and to see another way of life, so they can see there are different possibilities, in work, in how people live, and cultures.”
Chilean students take a 12-week application process to enter the program. Out of 50 applicants, advisors chose eight finalists.
“We’re really excited about these students,” Boyles said. “We have students from Klamath, all the way down river, all the way up to up Chiloquin,” Boyles added.
The challenges faced along the Klamath River and in Southern Chile draw a parallel for Boyles.
“At the end of the day, we do need to be making decisions that keep our rivers healthy, keep our people healthy,” Boyles said. “Rivers are the veins and arteries of our Earth. Healthy rivers are so critical.”