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Former Manton Teacher Takes On His Greatest Lesson Yet, Canoeing Solo Down the Manistee River

Grandin Smith is 80 years-old and by the time he reaches 81 he’ll hopefully have traveled over 150 miles of the Manistee River by way of canoe.

“I don’t know if I can do it or not, but I’m certainly going to give it a try,” says Smith, standing next to his handmade, single-person canoe on Lake Billings. Also next to him are his paddles, which once belonged to the region’s first conservation officers.

The path is full of unknowns and Smith won’t have access to a cell phone should anything go awry when he sets off two weeks from now. But, he’s far from worried.

“It’s not a worrisome sort of thing,” said Smith. “There’s just a lot of unknowns. A lot of unknowns, uncertainties, but we have spent a lot of days on the river figuring it all out.”

Smith is confident he’ll figure it out along the way, which is at the core of his mission: the outdoors can teach a great many life lessons and everyone could stand to learn them.

As a former teacher of Manton Schools, teaching History and English, Smith also volunteered to take students to Camp Rotary, near Clare, since the 1980s. Now in retirement, he’s still doing his part by helping to raise money for the next group of Manton outdoor learners through his learning adventure.

Students will be attending Camp Rotary in the winter and Smith is hoping to raise money for them to go, in addition to the golf fundraiser they put on at Emerald Vale Golf Club.

“Kids pick up a lot outside,” he says. “There are a lot more things to learn, as I say, about working together and solving mutual problems and and just learning what’s out there.”

Smith is asking anyone who would like to support the kids’ going to Camp Rotary next winter to donate money to the school. He’s decided not put any stipulations on his journey by way of pledge amounts.

No matter what happens, Smith knows he’ll figure it out along the way. A lesson the outdoors has taught him, along with other things. Like respect for all the living things we come across in nature.

“I think I knew about the respect thing when I was a kid because we used to catch things, you know, gophers and groundhogs and baby crawls that respect who they are and what they do and what their contribution to the overall ecosystem is,” says Smith.

It’s one of many lessons he hopes the kids will learn in addition to cooperation and friendship.

“I would hope that they take from that that you can learn without being in a classroom, that there are things to be taught in life that are worth knowing,” he says.

Grandin will start his journey on August 1 at the Manistee River near Mancelona.

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