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Thomas J. Elpel

PO Box 697
Pony, MT 59747
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Thomas J. Elpel
Author, Builder, Educator, and Conservationist

About Tom: Résumé | Books | Videos | Programs & Classes | Articles | News | Blog
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Trade-Up Challenge: Trading a book for a campsite on the Jefferson River Canoe Trail.

Conservation Trade-up Challenge
Trading a book for a campsite on the Jefferson River Canoe Trail
with Thomas J. Elpel

Cedar strip canoe available for trade.

      You may have heard of the man who traded a red paperclip for a house or the woman who traded a bobby pin for a house...

Five Months on the Missouri River: Paddling a Dugout Canoe

      Now I am trading up a copy of my book Five Months on the Missouri River for the next campsite on the Jefferson River Canoe Trail here in southwestern Montana.

TRADE #1: I announced the trade-up challenge at the Winter Count gathering in Arizona in February 2022, and ultimately traded a $36 copy of my book for a $460 Women Rising Wild Retreat with Wolves in Colorado.

Jefferson River Canoe Trail Logo TRADE #2: Next I traded that retreat up for a $1,150 Connecting Within / Coming Home Retreat in Oregon.

TRADE #3: Back home in Montana, I traded the Coming Home Retreat for a $1,750, five-bedroom / five-night AirBnB experience at Sage Mountain Center in the mountains near Whitehall, Montana.

TRADE #4: For the next trade, I traded the Sage Mountain AirBnB stay to fellow paddler Peter Husby for the hand-crafted cedar strip solo canoe you see above with a guesstimated value of at least $2,000.

      That's where we're at so far. The ultimate goal is to trade up until we have something valuable enough to trade or sell to help purchase a new campsite for the public on the Jefferson River Canoe Trail.

What would you trade for this beautiful cedar strip canoe?
Please contact me, and let's make a trade!

Or donate any amount directly to the Jefferson River Canoe Trail.

See how it all began...
Follow the Trade-Up Adventure on TikTok!

@thomasjelpel Join the adventure as I trade up a copy of my book for land for a public campsite on the Jefferson River. #tradeupchallenge #jeffersonriver #Montana Acoustic Guitar Stroll - Dow Brain

Follow the Trade-Up Adventure on TikTok!

Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery
From Three Forks, Montana to St. Louis, Missouri
Five months / 2,341 miles

Five Months on the Missouri River.

      A journey of two thousand miles began with a great big log. Ours was a 10,000-lb. Douglas fir log hauled to camp from a local sawmill. The wood was hard, brittle, and full of knots. It took us three months to whittle the log down to a 500+ lb. canoe. Enlisting four friends and former students from my wilderness survival programs, I then led a five-month "Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery" expedition to paddle the 2,341-mile river from Three Forks, Montana to St. Louis, Missouri.

      I was privileged to craft the canoe with Churchill Clark, the great-great-great-great grandson of Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Following in William's footsteps, Churchill travels America "carving canoes and paddling trees." He oversaw work on the dugout canoe to design a boat that was both artistic and functional. Seeing the image of a beaver face in the bow, he sculpted it into the design, carving a corresponding tail in the stern. The resulting twenty-foot canoe was both a beauty and a beast, which I named Belladonna Beaver. We tested the canoe on a weeklong journey down the Marias River, then began preparations for the great Missouri expedition.

Peace and Friendship logo for the Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery Expedition.       President Thomas Jefferson tasked Meriwether Lewis with more than following the Missouri River to its source in search of a potential water route to the Pacific. Jefferson commanded Lewis to study the geography and geology of the route, to note any useful resources, and to document the plants, animals, and fossils encountered along the way.

      Herein is the enduring appeal of the Corps of Discovery. Rather than blindly race to the end, they engaged in a scientific journey of discovery, collecting samples and journaling about their observations.

      In a similar vein as Lewis and Clark, our "rediscovery" of the Missouri River was more about exploring the river than merely paddling to the end. The water served as a highway to access an undiscovered country. Every campsite offered a new opportunity to hike and explore, identify new plants, forage for wild foods, hunt carp with bows and arrows, learn new birds, and seek to better understand bird language. The end goal of paddling to St. Louis provided a convenient excuse to spend five months camping, hiking, and exploring, slowly changing scenery as we migrated downstream.

      The full story of the expedition, plus more than 700 photos from the journey, are included in my award-winning book, Five Months on the Missouri River: Paddling a Dugout Canoe available from HOPS Press, LLC.

Citadel Rock. Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River.

Learn more about the Expedtion
Expedition Overview
Meet the Expedition Members
Recommended Reading

Go to the official Facebook page for the Expedition

Videos about the dugout canoe, Belladonna Beaver

Missouri River Watershed.
Image Source:

Brush up on Lewis and Clark History
Recommended books about the Corps of Discovery

Hi Tom,

Five Months on the Missouri River: Paddling a Dugout Canoe       I hope you're doing well. Just wanted to give you a huge kudos on your book, Five Months on the Missouri River. I hadn't got around to reading it until now, but just finished it last night. Amazing pictures and stories. Brought back so many memories from my trip. I think we stayed in a lot of the same spots for camping. Great work, hope to see you on the river!

-Mark Fingerhut,
Miissouri River Padddler

      Looking for life-changing resources? Check out these books by Thomas J. Elpel:

Green Prosperity: Quit Your Job, Live Your Dreams.
Roadmap to Reality: Consciousness, Worldviews, and the Blossoming of Human Spirit
to Reality
Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction
Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.
in Nature
Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
Foraging the
Mountain West
Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
in a Day
Shanleya's Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids

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