Conservation officer discovers man on a journey

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Andrew Dirks, of the Worthington region, was having an average day patrolling for goose and teal hunters when he came across an unusual sight. Dirks witnessed a man, at least ten miles from the nearest body of water, walking alone down a country road carrying a canoe. Dirks decided that this was a strange enough sight to stop and talk with the man to find out what was going on. Dirks would learn that the man was named Evan Hansen, a hiker who goes by the trail name “Sweet”.  “When I came across Evan Hanson, I remember thinking to myself that this is strange,” said Dirks. “I rarely see canoes being used in my station, let alone being portaged down the road miles from any water. As I slowed down to pass him on the shoulder of the roadway, I was able to make out numerous names written all over the canoe. That was when my curiosity got the better of me and I stopped to see what Evan was doing.”

Evan Hansen was spotted by Dirks walking miles from any water source carrying a canoe.

Hansen began a journey on September 1st of this year, attempting to portage a canoe along the entire length of the Superior Hiking Trail in Northern Minnesota - an over 300-mile trek. However, the wildfires caused an adjustment to his plans. The thick smoke from the wildfires in the Northern part of the state-led Hansen to adjust his route to carry his canoe from the South Dakota/Minnesota border to Wisconsin to raise awareness for suicide prevention. On Hansen’s travel page, he noted, “I am doing this to honor the memories of those who have lost their lives to suicide. I am also hopeful this endeavor will help shed light on the invisible burden that the victims of suicide have carried as well as the weight of grief that their loved ones continue to bear.” Hansen notes on his page that recently, four people from different circles of his life have died by suicide, and he knows that his experience is not unique. “Suicide happens far too often, with the average global rate of deaths by suicide hovering around 800,000 each year,” he wrote. Dirks says, “I was touched by his mission, and the dedication he has for it. Suicide is something I am all too familiar with being in Law Enforcement, as well as from my time in the military.”

The previous mention of the names written all over the canoe is of major significance, as upon chatting with Hansen, Dirks learned that as Hansen has traveled through the southwest part of Minnesota, he had initiated numerous conversations and through those conversations, names of those lost to suicide have been added to his canoe. The names were many. To these names written on the canoe, Dirks would be invited to add the name of a friend lost to suicide - Ed Picht. Picht, of Montevideo, worked as a police officer in Douglas, Pope, Anoka, and Wright Counties before transferring to work in Montevideo as a Conservation Officer in 2005. Picht was an active member in the Lions Club, serving at one point as the President, and the founder of the Montevideo Bushwacker’s Club that still exists today. Picht passed away in October of 2018. Dirks met Picht through their work with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  Dirks says, “Ed was one of my neighboring partners when I first became a Conservation Officer. I remember him as an energetic, fun-loving, carefree kind of guy, but who was also extremely passionate about protecting our natural resources for the people of Minnesota. He is missed.”

CO Andrew Dirks (Worthington) is pictured with Evan Hansen (trail name, “Sweet”).

Hansen’s goal in walking the 300+ miles carrying the canoe and adding those names of loved ones whose lives ended too soon is, as he writes, to decrease the number of lives lost to suicide. The trek is working as a fundraiser to raise awareness for suicide prevention while also raising funds for programs that work towards prevention. “When you selflessly donate, 100% of the funds will go directly to the non-profit organization, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of Southeast Minnesota, so that they can provide mental health services for those who need it the most,” he writes. The Minnesota Conservation Officers of America also shared the story of Evan Hansen’s mission, writing, “The MCOA applauds Evan in his journey and would like to thank him for his efforts with raising awareness for this significant issue.”

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is waiting at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Minnesota Crisis Text Line by texting “MN” to 741741. To learn more about Evan Hansen’s mission or to donate to the cause, visit his website at  https://www.4giving.com/donation/CCC2.