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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Elwin Oreaon, Axel Monjaras and Jonathan Lopez, all 13, front to back, paddle a canoe on the Jordan River in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. A group of students from Northwest Middle School and guides from Splore and National Ability Center paddled canoes up the river before school as part of the Get Into the River Festival.

SALT LAKE CITY — Taking a canoe down the Jordan River is one of the more unique ways to get to Northwest Middle School.

It may not be the fastest way to school, but Thursday morning, students and teachers were more excited about getting on the water than getting to class on time.

"It’s great to be able to use a natural resource that’s in the community and get to school that way," said science teacher Dani Bainsmith. "To work with the kids outside of the classroom in that capacity is really, really nice.”

The canoeing trip was part of the Get Into the River Festival, a monthlong celebration featuring the Jordan River and the Jordan River Parkway. Throughout September, cities and counties along the river host events that help celebrate and raise awareness about the Jordan River.

A handful of students and teachers from Northwest Middle School gathered on the banks of the Jordan River an hour before school started Thursday, chatting excitedly and carefully pushing canoes into the water.

"It’s going to be so cool going to school," said seventh-grader Joseph Sanchez as he and his friend Jackson Graham climbed inside a canoe.

The group started upstream at Cottonwood Park in Salt Lake City. The plan was to paddle downstream for an hour and arrive at school just before classes began.

At first, the canoes spun around in lazy circles as students tested their paddles and tried to coordinate their strokes.

"I was worried that they were going to tip over," said Japhet Sengiyumva, one of the event guides. "They were having a hard time at first, but they got better at it as they went along."

The 11 students were soon moving quickly down the river, loudly singing, "Row, row, row your boat" and pointing out what they saw along the riverbanks.

"There was a lot of garbage on the side, which kind of sucked," said Laurely Cruz, a seventh-grader. "I didn’t fall in, but we did see a kingfisher fly by."

"I loved it," said Albiona Osmani, an eighth-grader. "I’ve never went canoeing before, so this was my first time and it was the best thing ever. I want to do it again."

The event was hosted by Splore and the National Ability Center, an adaptive outdoor recreation program based in Salt Lake City.

Eric Bonin, the Splore Salt Lake program manager, said events at the Get Into the River Festival help change negative opinions about the Jordan River.

"Having this in our backyard among the Wasatch Mountains is amazing, and it’s forgotten, it's been abused," he said. "Being able to bring awareness to it and help change people’s perceptions is pretty awesome.”

The 50-mile river connects 16 cities across the Wasatch Front, providing 45 miles of trails and recreational and environmental value to the communities, he added.

"It’s just a fun thing to have in an urban setting," Bonin said.

The canoe trip took longer than expected, but even being late to classes didn't dampen the excitement of canoeing to school.

"It went great. It was hard, but we made it," Joseph said, adding that their canoe ran into a few trees along the way.

"But then we started communicating and we didn’t run into anything," Jackson said.

Eighth-grader Azalea Smith said her favorite part was seeing the river from a different angle.

"Instead of being on the top or walking through the trail, (we were) inside the water and seeing all the things you couldn’t see from the trail," she said.