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Through the river’s eyes

Courtesy of Stephen Witherspoon and Greg Cairns

Stephen Witherspoon, left, and Greg Cairns ended their 35-day journey at Lake Powell. They floated across the lake in a solar raft at approximately 2.5 mph. The raft was built by local companies Solar Works Durango and Jacks Plastic Welding of Aztec.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

A pair of Fort Lewis College students have turned a 35-day exploration of the Animas River, from its headwaters north of Silverton to Lake Powell, into a 90-minute documentary.

Stephen Witherspoon and Greg Cairns are the producers and directors of “The Current,” which will have its premiere Wednesday at The Back Space Theatre.

They skied from the top of 13,660-foot Wood Mountain north of Silverton to Animas Forks, a ghost town where gullies gather runoff that becomes the Animas River.

From there they hiked to Eureka, another early-day mining community, then kayaked to Silverton.

Switching to a raft, they reached the Tacoma power station where they again took up travel on foot. At Baker’s Bridge, they put the raft back in the river and rode it the rest of the way to Glen Canyon Dam on Lake Powell.

They were accompanied on their trip by Jesse Lamb, who also studied at FLC, and Brandon Lundquist, a student at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

The travelers interviewed more than a dozen people along the way, among them, farmers, an environmental lawyer, water agency officials and river advocates.

Among those interviewed were FLC professors Bradley Clark (political science), Andrew Gulliford (environmental studies) and Duane Smith (history).

“We wanted to learn what impact people had on the river,” Witherspoon said.

Cairns, who will graduate in May with a degree in liberal studies, was impressed by the Animas River drainage as a whole.

“The big thing for me was to see the basin from where the river started to where it ended up,” Cairns said. “The trip provided a holistic sense of what the river goes through.”

The current has deposited 30 feet of silt in Lake Powell since Glen Canyon Dam was built, Cairns said. Construction started in 1956 and was completed 10 years later.

The travelers, who had an undergraduate grant through the FLC anthropology department to finance their venture, were practicing what is known as applied anthropology, said David Kozak, an FLC professor of anthropology and adviser to Witherspoon and Cairns.

“The whole idea of applied anthropology is to address social problems through research,” Kozak said. “They were addressing a problem by looking at the entire Animas River drainage.

“A film is a good way to disseminate their knowledge,” Kozak said. “Film is visual, and we’re a visually oriented society.”

If their film is well-received, Witherspoon said, he and Cairns want to eventually enter it in festivals.


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