U.S. and Chilean student exchange celebrates river conservation

Ríos to Rivers cultural exchange brings group of U.S. students to kayak along Chile’s rivers.

Hoping to raise awareness for river conservation, U.S. based non-profit Ríos to Rivers brought a select group of teenagers to Chile to learn about the country’s magnificent rivers. The teens came from the area surrounding the Colorado River in the United States and are expert navigators of that waterway.

Ríos to Rivers aims to inspire the protection and conservation of rivers through cross-cultural exchange and the support of outdoor programs, according to the organization’s website. “With a focus on river running, hands on education, and service, the exchanges aim to build dialogue and develop a sense of stewardship for endangered rivers.”

The eight U.S. students began their journey on March 24 in Chile’s capital. Outside of Santiago in the spectacular Cajón de Maipo, the group met with a solar power specialist Roberto Román.

Soon they were off to Patagonia to meet with their Chilean counterparts in the exchange: eight teenagers from the Club Náutico Escualo in the Aysén Region of Patagonia. Together the teens kayaked the Río Baker, one of Chile’s largest rivers, while learning about local conservation efforts.

“Theoretical education is good but practical education is better,” project organizer Susan Munroe said in an interview with The Santiago Times.

“[The students] are still young enough to be able to learn anything and they are not already engaged in a career path. They can go anywhere with the education we are giving them.”

The U.S. group’s Chilean adventures wrap up on April 7th. As the second part of the Ríos to Rivers exchange, eight Chilean students will then visit the U.S. to kayak the Colorado River and learn about efforts to protect that waterway.

“We want to provide the kids some accurate information in an unbiased way,” co-director of Ríos to Rivers Weston Boyles, told The Santiago Times. “The idea is not to tell them what to think but to educate them on current environmental issues.”

Kayaking in Chile

With hundreds of rivers intersecting its long and thin geography, Chile is a kayaker’s paradise. In December Chile held the Whitewater Grand Prix, an international kayaking competition that brought together some the world’s best kayakers for competition along the Río Gol Gol, Río Trancura, Río Fuy, and Río Futaleufú in Central Chile.

For recreational kayakers, Chile also offers a wealth of opportunities.