ST. CLOUD - Todd Foster grew up next to the Sauk River and has spent most of his life living along its banks.
That gave him an initial interest in the outdoors and canoeing in particular. He has explored thousands of miles of rivers and streams in North America, including a 110-day trek from his home in St. Cloud to Hudson Bay. Paddling with his friend and canoeing enthusiast, Scott Miller, they left Foster's house on the Sauk, paddled to the Mississippi River, down to the Minnesota River, up and west to the Red, across Lake Winnipeg, down the Hayes and Gods rivers to Hudson Bay.
The duo is writing a book about the experience.
So, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Sauk River Watershed District, an organization started with input from the Chain of Lakes Association, Foster and Miller saw an opportunity.
Starting Sunday, they'll make the comparatively short 110-mile trip down the length of the river from Lake Osakis to St. Cloud. They plan to spread it over eight days, with "meet-and-greets" in Sauk Centre, Melrose and Cold Spring.
They'll speak with representatives from the Friends of the Sauk River, the Sauk River Watershed District, Stearns County Parks and the Department of Natural Resources to address the shape of the river corridor.
While the river faces some of the same issues it did when the Sauk River Watershed District was formed, Foster and Miller want to demonstrate the opportunity central Minnesotans have in their midst.
"If you like adventure, you don't have to go all the way to Hudson Bay," said Foster, 35, who is the membership director for the Friends of the Sauk River and also serves on the board of managers for the watershed district.
The Friends of the Sauk River also have created a Canoe Library, available at no cost to anyone who doesn't have canoeing equipment and would like to test the waters.
Foster and Miller met 16 years ago while working at a Boy Scout camp. They later learned of their mutual interest in canoeing and made a 10-day trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
"We packed like we were going to Mars," said Miller, 35, a massage therapist who lives in Minneapolis on the Mississippi. "But it was a lot of fun, and we've been paddling as much as we can ever since."
Miller says the Sauk is one of Minnesota's hidden treasures. "It's a gorgeous river," he said. "It goes through agricultural country, and the wildlife is concentrated along the river. It twists and turns, and you have no idea what you'll see around the corner. The last time we canoed it, we entered a stretch where the entire river was covered by a canopy of trees. It was a hot day, so that was welcome. We saw cows on each side for a while, then some kids with fishing poles. It was like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting ... It's amazing."
That's not to say it couldn't be improved. Foster says the river still feels the impact of the nearby agriculture, septic systems and other obstructions across the water.
The Friends of the Sauk River organized as a nonprofit about six years ago and has used state money to get rid of trees and other obstacles. They also organize and participate in river celebrations, river cleanup days and monitoring programs.