Canoeist kicks off trip down the St. Croix to honor past, present, and future

Jeff Butler will spend two weeks paddling down the river in honor of his brother and the region’s heritage — with chances to visit him on the journey.




5 minute read

In partnership with the North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix Heritage Area:

Jeff Butler canoeing the St. Croix in January. (Photo by Rhonda Schrader)

On May 2, at 9 a.m., Jeff Butler will begin a solo, 168-mile sojourn down the St. Croix River from its beginning near Solon Springs, Wisconsin, to where it meets the Mississippi at Prescott, Wisconsin. He is doing this as a spiritual journey in honor of his brother, Richard Leo “Dick” Butler.  The brothers had talked about this trip and Jeff hoped he would share a day on the river with his brother, but it was not to be. Dick died peacefully surrounded by his family on January 22, 2021.

North Woods and Waters is grateful that Jeff will be also be using this trip to focus attention on North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix Area Heritage Area.

“The tag line for North Woods and Waters is ‘Many Waters, Many Stories.’ I am hoping my trip will help focus attention on what North Woods and Waters is doing on behalf of the natural, cultural, and historic resources of this beautiful, 8,000 square mile watershed,” Butler says. “We have many waters to explore and many stories to tell.“

And of course, as a quintessential storyteller, Jeff will share stories of his amazing trip through journaling, sharing updates on St. Croix 360, and several planned meeting spots during and at the end of his journey. (See Map & Itinerary below.)

First update from Jeff:

Canoeing the Namekagon in May 2020. (Photo by Jeff Butler)
Canoeing by the Hudson I-94 bridge in January. (Photo by Rhonda Schrader)

Whenever I crawl into a canoe or kayak I feel like I have been doing that forever, my mind always goes back to what it must of felt like for my Native American relatives on my father’ss side (his mother, great grandmother, and beyond were Ojibwe) to crawl into their birch bark canoes.

In May 2020, I paddled the Namekagon River from top to bottom and documented it on Facebook for friends and family to follow my trip. My brother Dick followed it as he was in a very tough and courageous battle with his cancer treatment. As with many others that have fought this fight, you put hope for a full recovery into some tangible event that you can look forward to doing in the future.

As I was half way down the Nam, I decided that now I have to paddle the St. Croix in May 2021 and maybe he could join me on part of it. He agreed that sounded like a great idea and he would look forward to joining me on part of the trip.

A campsite on Jeff’s May 2020 Namekagon Trip. (Photo by Jeff Butler)

My siblings and I were fortunate to grow up in a family where we were all introduced to loving all outdoor adventures in a variety of ways. We heard stories at a very early age of how our grandparents traveled in search of adventures, work, and for some a new way of life.

My great-grandfather left Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia in 1895 to start a bridge building business with his brother in River Falls, Wis., and changed our last name from Boutilier to Butler. I always like to think that some of that French Canadian blood also had some French Voyageur blood mixed in along the way.

My dad’s youngest brother Roy taught high school wood shop in the 60s and 70s and his students would build canoe paddles and cedar strip canoes. Their first paddle trips would be down the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers.

Jeff’s uncle Dick is in Canoe #20.

My dad’s other brother Dick (who my brother, Richard, was named after) paddled his canoe in the Minneapolis Aquatennial Paul Bunyan Canoe Derby in 1949. That canoe derby would start in Bemidji and end in Minneapolis from 1940 to the early 1960s.

My brother Dick and I also shared a love for canoeing. He and I paddled the Namekagon and several BWCA trips (unfortunately, never together) many years ago. When I started guiding trips in both of those areas several years later he would say, “I should be doing that instead of this damn concrete work, you were smart to get out of it.”

Jeff Butler, Alpine Lake, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, 1990.

Well here I am (many more years later) still paddling and enjoying those same areas, only now as a National Park Service Park Ranger and also in my personal time as a fishing veteran for other veterans who are finding the magic for themselves on these two beautiful rivers.

When I started planning my 2021 St. Croix trip in December, I was looking forward to when I could offer Dick some stretches we could paddle together. He knew I was laying out my trip plans, but that conversation with him never happened. My brother Richard Leo Butler passed away on Jan 22, 2021.

So, Dick will be joining me on this trip going through every set of rapids while dodging and pointing out rocks ahead, enjoying campfires at some of my favorite campsites for every meal, and starting each day with cup of coffee or gunpowder tea.

Map & itinerary

View an interactive map that will be updated with photos and information.

Here are the times, dates, and locations of the places we can easily meet Jeff and talk to him about his paddle.  The other campsites on his itinerary are more remote, but if you’re nearby (by river or road), feel free to stop in on an evening and sit around his campfire.

Participate in a ceremony, led by Dennis and Cleo White, and send Jeff on his way downriver. Then join other well-wishers at a nearby restaurant to swap river stories and have brunch.

Share a campfire with Jeff and hear his reflections on his first week on the St. Croix.

Bring your lunch and have a picnic with Jeff Butler and artist Kami Mendlik in Marine on St. Croix.  Kami will be painting the St. Croix River with a space for Jeff and his canoe.   View Kami’s work here:

Celebrate the end of Jeff’s paddle at the Great River Road Visitor’s Center. After two weeks on the water, Jeff will share his experiences, encounters, and reflections about Spirits on the Croix: Past, Present and Future.

Check St. Croix 360 often or subscribe to our weekly newsletter for updates on Jeff’s trip!


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10 responses to “Canoeist kicks off trip down the St. Croix to honor past, present, and future”

  1. Craig Richardson Avatar
    Craig Richardson

    The Butler family are the best!

  2. Mark Hove Avatar
    Mark Hove

    Have a great trip Jeff!!

    1. Jeff Avatar

      Thanks Mark

  3. Mary K. Bauer Avatar
    Mary K. Bauer

    I’m with you in spirit Jeff! Safe paddling, smooth waters and keep the bow pointed downstream
    I’ll follow online

  4. Tracy Goodwin Avatar
    Tracy Goodwin

    We’ll have a hot Thermos of coffee for you on the morning of the 10th after Grantsburg Camp! Good Luck and safe travels. The Goodwin’s

    1. Jeffu Avatar

      Sounds great – I never turn away a cup on the River.. what’s your plan to meet up?

  5. Michael Bullard Avatar
    Michael Bullard

    Dick & l entered two canoe races back in the mid seventies and won them both in Charlie Bullard’s old town (100# + when wet)canoe. Square back. He was a great, strong bowman. I’ll never forget our victories. I keep a medallion in
    My vehicle that we both received at all times to remember Dick. Thanks Jeff.

  6. Michael Bullard Avatar
    Michael Bullard

    I’m guessing he still has his medallion also.

  7. Kevin Smith Avatar

    Hey Jeff, Hope your doing well. Nice to see you the other day. I put a short video on the 360 fb page. Was the image of pine trees on your paddle a woodburning? Very cool! I did a woodburning of an eagle on my paddle. Enjoy your journey. ATB Kevin

    1. Kevin Smith Avatar
      Kevin Smith

      If you click on my name it will take you to the video


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Canoeist kicks off trip down the St. Croix to honor past, present, and future