Ivan Bartha, coordinator of experiential education and outdoor programing at SCSU, gives insight about his position as Chair of the Midwest division for the American Canoe Association.
Bartha arrived in St. Cloud last Tuesday after being in Michigan for just over a week visiting friends and family. While he was there, he accepted the ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award from the ACA—the largest non-profit paddle sport organization in nation, he said.
Now starting to settle into fall semester, Bartha said a part of being Chair of the Midwest Division, which covers 11 states and is a volunteer position, he did quite a bit of travelling over the summer. Some of the goals and responsibilities of being Chair is to try and connect paddlers from various states and to hold bi-annual meetings, Bartha said. And, along with building networks of paddlers, the ACA chose Bartha to administer the United States Coast Guard Grant in Nebraska and Wisconsin this summer.
Bartha went to each state to train people to become kayak instructors, he said. In June, Bartha instructed game wardens in Wisconsin for the program. Then in August, Bartha travelled to Nebraska to train people from the Game and Parks Departments, which included people from boating education programs, paddle sports programs and outdoor education programs, he said.
Bartha received his first certificate from the ACA in 1991, but because of other priorities, he wasn’t actively involved with the ACA until about 2005, about the same time he started working at SCSU. Ever since then, Bartha has been training in multiple paddle sport disciplines, and staying very active with the ACA.
Bartha is an Instructor-trainer for coast- al kayaking and river canoeing and tour- ing, and he’s an instructor for kayaking and stand-up paddling, he said. This amount of training and discipline takes years and has its challenges. To help Bartha through the process, a colleague and mentor from Charleston, N.C. evaluates his training methods and course structure, he said. It’s forces Bartha to look at his training styles and methods from multiple perspectives, and has been a helpful and positive experience, he said.
Along with being an instructor, Bartha found opportunities to work with various organizations in the Midwest. From helping veterans get on the water with Wounded Warrior Program to meeting with the President of the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association, Bartha said he’s trying to build connections with paddlers.
The course took also took Bartha to an adaptive paddling summit, where the main focus was to get people with disabilities engaged and active in paddle sports. A few years ago, Bartha helped with the Minneapolis chapter of Team River Runner, a non-profit organization promotes healing through paddle sports, to get veterans engaged in paddling, he said.
“We can take somebody with a pretty serious spinal cord injury, and you would never notice when they’re in a kayak,” he said.
Bartha said there were some challenges with the level of engagement, but for those that participated, it was a positive experience. He said some of his students that are veterans plan to help with to programs like this to helps give people a positive introduction to the sport.
Continuing on, Bartha said he spent time in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, and noticed that paddlers in the area are very “passionate” about paddle sports. In fact, Iowa recently finished their fifth white water park by knocking down hazardous low-head dams, he said. “Every bit of water, they paddle,” he said.
“You know, it’s funny, because you don’t think of places like Nebraska or Iowa or South Dakota as being destinations for paddling,” he said. “But they really are.”
“Whether it’s white water on the Mississippi River, sea kayaking on the Great Lakes, stand up on Lake Calhoun or surfing at Park Point,” he said. “We have it all.”
“Even in St. Cloud we’re lucky, because within an hour’s drive or a 90-mile drive, you can be on some pretty burley class 3, class 4 white waters on the St. Louis or Kettle River in the spring time,” he said.
Compared to other places like the southwestern where people can paddle year- round, paddlers from the Midwest try to make the most of their paddling season, Bartha said. The snow and frigid weather is an obstacle, giving a shorter window for paddling.
“I’m fiercely loyal to paddling in the Midwest,” he said. “I think we live in arguably one of the most diverse paddling locations in the country.”
With the SCSU on the Mississippi River, SCSUs Outdoor Endeavors program has over $80,000 in equipment—including canoes and kayaks—and hold instructional courses on campus, Bartha said.
“We try to be the ambassadors for paddle sports safety and education,” he said. “We’ve made it a very strong point to try and create a culture of respect and safety for the river.”
During the winter months, Outdoor Endeavors instructs ‘kayak clinics’ in the pool from October to April, and during the summer months they’re held at Lake George, Bartha said. The courses in St. Cloud are more entry- level, but there are options for those who are seeking more experience, he said.
“If somebody becomes good enough and wants to take it to the next level, and SCSU works with UMDs outdoor programs,” to accommodate to the student’s paddling level, he said. He said that SCSU students and UMD students will swap on a regular-basis.
Randy Carlson, White water Instructor at UMD, instructs more advanced course in the northern part of the state, while Bartha does focuses on the southern part of the state.
And To help with the instructional courses, Bartha said he tries to get some of his students trained as ACA instructors.
“They would go through the same process as any other outdoor professional would,” he said. “We have this talent pool here,” he said. “It’s the students that make this program what it is.”
“These students come into it as a labor of love. This is something they want,” he said. “It’s unfair for me to take credit, when it’s not really mine to take.”
“They’re the nuts and bolts of this program.”
This article originally appeared in the University Chronicle on November 2, 2014.