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McCoy's River Journey Book Wins National Award

November 20, 2018

An Emporia State journalism professor who has won a national award for his book about a trip down the Arkansas River hopes the account will inspire others to conserve and protect the environment.

“Elevations: A Personal Exploration of the Arkansas River” by Max McCoy is one of two winners of the National Outdoor Book Award in the history/biography category. The announcement came Nov. 15 from Idaho State University, one of the contest sponsors.

In “Elevations,” McCoy follows the Arkansas River from its headwaters at the Continental Divide down to the southern plains. He travels by kayak, on foot and by Jeep, and he weaves a personal story into the narrative about the river and the people who have lived and died along it. 

“It’s not only a story about kayaking the Arkansas River, it’s also about the cultural history of the river” said Jim Moss, a long-time judge for the program. “McCoy does an excellent job of blending stories of the river’s past as he paddles his way downstream.”

“I hope the book will encourage efforts to conserve and restore the Arkansas River, which is one of our most valuable natural resources,” McCoy said. “The river has died in the western third of Kansas. We’ve used it up through irrigation, and the aquifer beneath is in danger as well. It’s too late to save the river we had, but we should start thinking about its rebirth. If we start now future generations might have a new river in its place.”   

Competition was so fierce in the category that judges chose two winners. The other title chosen for the award is “To the Edges of the Earth” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward J. Larson. It describes the races to the North and South poles in 1909.

Past winners of the National Outdoor Book Award include Douglas Brinkley for “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade to Save America” and Helen Macdonald, “H is for Hawk.”

“Elevations” began as a sabbatical project five years ago and was published in February 2018 by the University Press of Kansas, Lawrence. McCoy, who has won awards for his other books, including two that were named Kansas Notable Books by the state library, is also the director of the Center for Great Plains Studies on the ESU campus. 

“I was so surprised by this award that at first I thought there must have been some mistake,” McCoy said. “It’s such a strange book, really.”

McCoy said he was grateful for the support given to him by Emporia State, the colleagues in his department, and the University Press of Kansas that made the book possible. 

“Nobody really writes this kind of book alone,” he said. “Oh, I typed it all right, and paddled and did the research, but a lot of people pitched in to make it possible. The people I interviewed along the river were particularly generous with their time and expertise.”

There were a few deserving of special thanks, he said.

“My editor, Kim Hogeland, saw something of value about my crazy project to paddle the Arkansas,” McCoy said. “My friend Karl Gregory dropped me off and picked me up at a lot of access points. River guides Brandon Slate and Reid Jackson kept me out of trouble. But the person who deserves the most thanks is my wife, Kim Horner. She helped shape the book in more ways than I can count.”

The National Outdoor Book Awards are presented in 10 categories. Sponsors of the program are Idaho State, the National Outdoor Book Awards Foundation and the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.

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