Manton’s former teacher takes his biggest lesson yet, solo canoeing the Manistee River

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Grandin Smith is 80 years old and when he turns 81 he will hopefully have covered over 150 miles of the Manistee River by canoe.

“I don’t know if I can do it or not, but I’ll definitely try,” Smith said, standing beside his handmade one-person canoe on Billings Lake. Next to him are also his paddles, which once belonged to the first conservation officers in the area.

The path is full of unknowns and Smith won’t have access to a cell phone in case something goes wrong when he leaves in two weeks. But he is far from worried.

“It’s not kind of a worrying thing,” Smith said. “There are just a lot of unknowns. Lots of unknowns, uncertainties, but we spent many days on the river figuring it all out.

Smith is confident he’ll find out along the way, which is central to his mission: the outdoors can teach many life lessons and anyone could learn them.

As a former teacher at Manton Schools, teaching history and English, Smith has also volunteered to take students to Camp Rotary, near Clare, since the 1980s. Now retired, he does always his part by helping to raise funds for the next group of outdoor learners in Manton through his learning adventure.

The students will be attending Camp Rotary this winter and Smith hopes to raise money for them to go, in addition to the golf fundraiser they hosted at Emerald Vale Golf Club.

“Kids pick up a lot outdoors,” he says. “There’s a lot more to learn, like I said, about working together and solving mutual problems and just learning what’s out there.”

Smith is asking anyone who wants to support the children’s arrival at Camp Rotary next winter to donate to the school. He decided not to put any stipulations on his trip in the form of pledge amounts.

Whatever happens, Smith knows he’ll find out along the way. A lesson that the outdoors taught him, as well as other things. Like respect for all living beings that we encounter in nature.

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

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

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

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

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