University students to travel entire 320 miles of Rock River

Jake Boucher (from top), Jon Gress, and Garrett Feik will attempt to kayak the entire length of the Rock River beginning Tuesday, May 13. (Photos provided)
Jake Boucher (from top), Jon Gress, and Garrett Feik will attempt to kayak the entire length of the Rock River beginning Tuesday, May 13. (Photos provided)

Jon Gress, Jake Boucher and Garret Feik begin their journey Tuesday, May 13, from the Horicon Marsh

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

Two Maranatha Baptist University students and a friend from Black Hawk East Community College will embark on a trip only a few have made in recent years when they attempt to kayak the entire length of the Rock River to raise money for the Maranatha Baptist University sports program. This will be the pioneering effort to canoe the 320-mile Rock River with its new status as a National Water Trail.

Jon Gress, Jake Boucher and Garret Feik will begin the 320-mile trip Tuesday, May 13, from the Horicon Marsh, near Waupun, Wis. Their journey will end 18 days later in Rock Island, Ill., where the Rock is picked up by the Mississippi River.

Our school recently changed its name from Maranatha Baptist Bible College to Maranatha University, and we wanted to help with that,” Boucher, a sophomore business management major, said. “We are a Christian school, so we don’t get much federal funding. We are raising money for new athletic uniforms and a uniform for our mascot so he has something to run around in at the games.”

Graduating from the community college, Feik’s major is ag-business, and he will attend Western Illinois University next year.

Maranatha’s new mascot represents the new name of its athletic teams, the Sabercats. The teams are formerly known as the Crusaders. The re-branding program also includes improvements to the school’s gymnasium.

This is going to be a lot of fun,” said Gress, a biblical studies senior from Pekin, Ill. “We look forward to being on the water doing what we like to do.”

Each student is an avid outdoorsman and knows how to handle a kayak, yet none has been on a trip longer than three days. Along the way, they plan to camp at various sites, including campsites designated as part of the Rock River Trail. Their provisions are ample, and an emergency plan is in place.

Frank (Schier) said he’d have someone to us within an hour of wherever we are if we needed them,” Boucher said.

Schier is the editor & publisher of this paper and the founder of the Rock River Trail, which became the 10th National Water Trail in 2013; since then, four more rivers have been added to the National Water Trail System (go to The Rock River Trail Initiative has an 18-member council composed of outdoor advocates from each of the 11 counties in Wisconsin and Illinois the Rock River flows through.

We have so many contacts ranging from park districts, mayors, county board chairs and individual environmentalists that have given us super support, we can give these students just about any kind of support they need,” Schier said. “We are really excited about their effort, and really excited for them. It will be a wonderful adventure for a very wholesome cause!”

Boucher, a Quad Cities-area native, hopes to raise $10,000. As of this report, a few donations have been made. A running total hasn’t been released. Those numbers may be announced along with real-time, on-the-water Facebook updates. Follow Boucher, Gress and Feik at Also follow the students’ trip through daily posting about their progress at

The trip will mark only the second noted full-length kayak journey of the Rock River in the past 20 years. Rockford photographer Nels Akerlund paddled its entire length in the early ’90s and recounted the experience in pictures in the book Our Rock River (1995, Chelsea).

I wish Jon, Jake and Garrett good water, and congratulate them for being the first to attempt to travel in its entirety — our new 320-mile National Water Trail as designated by the U.S. National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Interior May 11, 2013,” Schier said. “Please support them in any way you can.”

Send donations to:

Maranatha Baptist University Sabercats
745 West Main St.
Watertown, WI 53094

Online donations can be made at

Editor’s note: Editor and Publisher Frank Schier contributed to this report.

From the May 7-13, 2014, issue

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