- Associated Press - Saturday, May 20, 2017

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) - Three women navigating a 900-mile horseback ride to raise awareness about migrating salmon have faced flooded paths, busy highways and an escaped horse.

During on stop in mid-May, they tackled a barrage of questions from a highly curious group of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at McSorley Elementary School in Lewiston.

Hands shot up throughout the nearly hour-long presentation, giving way to queries about wild animals (they’ve seen elk, deer, eagles and beavers), the women’s ages (they’re all in their 20s) and what happens if one of the horses gets pregnant on the trip (a very unlikely scenario, they assured the children).

One student wondered why the women chose horses to transport them on their journey.

“We couldn’t find any salmon big enough to ride,” said MJ Wright, grinning at the kids.

But Wright had a more serious answer, too. The arduous horseback ride is a way for them to mimic the path of the salmon, she explained.

The fish travel from the Pacific Ocean to spawn, rider Kat Cannell explained, with some going as far inland as Redfish Lake near Stanley, Idaho - a 900-mile journey with an elevation climb of 6,500 feet. That’s where the women are headed.

The lake got its name, Cannell said, from the sockeye salmon that filled its waters at a time when millions of fish traveled there each year. Now, she said, that number is usually only a few thousand.

The trio have dubbed their adventure “Ride for Redd,” named for the nests in which salmon lay their eggs. They have set up an online crowdfunding page at www.gofundme.com/shemovesonward to raise money for the trip, for a documentary film being produced about their efforts and for the conservation organization Idaho Rivers United.

The trek started in April, and the three hope to be at Redfish Lake in three or four weeks. While the most dangerous part of their trip so far has been riding along highways with fast-moving vehicles, the most arduous section is yet to come. They’ll travel through wilderness areas next, Cannell told the students, places without any roads at all.

“We will need to be really resourceful,” she said.

Lewiston’s elementary school students spend considerable time learning about steelhead, a type of rainbow trout in the salmon family that return from the ocean to spawn in area rivers.

Fifth-graders raise steelhead from eggs each year and are getting ready to release the young fish, called fry, into the Clearwater River at Spalding later this month, fifth-grade teacher Courtney Kolb said. Sixth-graders from McSorley will travel to Lower Granite Dam, where they’ll learn about fish ladders that help steelhead and salmon migrate over dams. And fourth-grade students read about Redfish Lake when studying Idaho History, Kolb said.

“So many aspects of what they’re doing fall into what we’ve been studying in the classroom,” she said of the riders. “For them to connect that they’re riding the same distance that the fish swim was kind of eye-opening.”

Three of the expedition’s horses stood in the shade of a tree on the lawn outside the McSorley gymnasium while their riders visited with the children. The women explained they have seven horses for the trip: three to ride, three to carry packs and one to swap out in case a horse needs a break.

They usually sleep in a tent, though people along the way have been “extremely kind,” Katelyn Spradley said. “Sometimes they even let us stay in their barns. Sometimes they bring us food.”

The rest of the time, they eat oatmeal for breakfast, jerky for snacks and dehydrated meals prepared with a portable stove called a Jetboil.

Asked about bathing, Spradley told the students they get one shower a week - on a good week.”

But the inconveniences of the road, she said, are worth the awareness they are sharing about salmon.

“We just love fish,” Spradley said.

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Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com

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