MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A group of seven people in canoes set off on Aug. 30 to learn more about what many feel is one of the more under-appreciated rivers in the state.

“I always wish I could continue,” said Minneapolis resident Nick Ryan of the Wild River Academy.

Late Saturday, Ryan finished six weeks in a canoe, paddling with six others from the academy on the Minnesota River.

They began at the river’s headwaters at Big Stone Lake near the Minnesota border with South Dakota, following the southeastern path through towns such as Granite Falls, Redwood Falls and New Ulm, turning hard northeast at Mankato and coming to shore in Bloomington — a 300 mile trip.

It wasn’t too long ago that the river had high levels of pollution. That’s been drastically reduced by new anti-pollution regulations limiting the amount of chemicals that can be dumped in natural waterways. But the stigma of those dirty days persists among those who look to water for swimming, canoeing and fishing.

“We have discovered through our trip that the Minnesota River is an ideal river for recreaction,” Ryan said. “It’s beautiful, it’s scenic. There are towns that aren’t far from civilization but it does feel like it often.”

Ryan and the other academy members talked with people living along the river valley, noticing that they look at the waterway for a sense of identity and a sense of place.

“People feel a huge connection to the river,” Ryan said. “It’s the source of life, it’s a source for food, and it’s a place that people can use as a touchstone for their individual identities.”

The information on the river and the communities surrounding it was posted online for what Ryan calls an adventure learning trip. He says he learned a lot about the river, the geology surrounding it, and the people who live nearby. He also built lasting friendship with his fellow adventurers.

“We’re all going to a concert in a few days,” Ryan said. “We’re definitely not sick of each other.”

This Minnesota River paddle-and-learn journey was Ryan’s third such trip, and he plans to do it again next year, possibly in Iowa.