University of Minnesota students at School Bus Rock, Little Sand Bay
Outdoor Leadership course for the University of Minnesota
May 6, 2013
For the last 4 years I've been teaching a class on Outdoor Leadership at the University of Minnesota. It's been great fun! The best part has been meeting, teaching and mentoring some really fine young people. This past weekend we did the outdoor component of the class up at Little Sand Bay. We were supposed to sea kayak, but the weather did not cooperate so well. The area received 22 inches of snow the day before we arrived. Still, we had a great class, hiked to some very cool places like Lost Creek and School Bus Falls, and went over Outdoor Leadership. The students were great!
Jim Frey (pictured right) and I test the new rickshaw in Tikal
Rickshaw brackets all for quick and easy installation
Jim Frey and our fabulous guide and partner Francisco Florian in Tikal
New and Improved Rickshaw
March 25, 2013
Innovation never stops at WI! Several years ago we developed an adaptive device we call the “rickshaw,” turning a wheelchair into an easy to pull two-wheeled cart. It always worked great, but was cumbersome to install. WI gear-man John Jewell came up with an idea to install sleeves on to a chair so that the rickshaw device could be installed and removed in seconds.
It works GREAT! Here I am with my friend Jim Frey giving it a test in Tikal in Guatemala. We gave it quite a work out in this ancient Mayan city, and it passed with flying colors!
Oh yeah, Tikal is spectacular. Up until now, the only way a person who uses a wheelchair could see it was from the back of a truck. I pulled Jim all day and feeling great at 56 years-old—it was surprisingly easy.
Before signing off I have to shout out to our Guatemalan guide, Francisco Florian. Not only does he possess deep knowledge of the ancient Mayan civilization, he is also a fabulous person and skilled guide. He makes the ancient Mayan way of life come alive better than any teacher I've ever had. The Mayans lived in Tikal for 1300 years. Makes you wonder what New York City will look like in the year 3,000.
Muthoga and me on the Kenya - Tanzania border. Notice we are holding a giraffe. Muthoga is an excellent guide.
Here is the Wilderness Inquiry Kenya office in Naro Moru, Kenya, with Lucas, Muthoga, and me. It’s a world away from WI’s headquarters in Dinkytown, but the spirit of adventure and inclusion is definitely here!
Kathy with an entourage of Maasai children in East Africa. Maasai children do not often see wheelchairs, especially bright yellow ones.
Wilderness Inquiry Kenya
March 15, 2013
Last year I had the pleasure of taking two trips to Kenya. Both were exceptional experiences, in no small part because of our partner, Richard Mwaura, who goes by his Kikuyu name Muthoga.
Muthoga is an exceptional person, wonderful guide, and community leader. On WI Kenya trips you will see Africa up close. Of course you will see all of the animals—the Big Five—and much, much more. But Muthoga will also invite you into several communities, including the Masaai and also Muthoga’s tribe, the Kikuyu. All I can say is that these people are incredibly gracious and welcoming. Like many others, I first went to Kenya excited to see the animals, but I left with a connection to the people that has remained incredibly strong.
Kenya has been in the news lately because of its recent election. Here is a report from Muthoga about his experience:
“Back here in Kenya we had a peaceful General election, I am sure you are all aware of that. We usually hold elections after every 5 years although this time round was 6 months late reason being we are under new constitution and the electoral body needed time to prepare. I was lucky to be hired by one of the leading media houses to provide transport for their reporters to the North rift region of this country. North Rift region is the North of rift valley which is past Nakuru town towards Western Kenya. We were based in Eldoret.
This town and the region as a whole was the epicenter of tribal clashes that resulted from the flawed 2007 General election. To start with I was hesitant to take up the assignment but when I reflected I thought it would be a learning experience since I will have first hand information about the region peace status.
We spent almost 2 weeks until after the final results were announced. It was very peaceful election. This was different from 2007. I talked to the locals and I pretty sure that no one would like a repeat of those clashes. They are coexisting peacefully. This is good for the country and even the tourism sector. Everybody now is back to work and schools countrywide has reopened since they had been closed to pave way for the election. For the process itself from my perspective it was fair and transparent. We move forward.”
Thank you! Muthoga
Our group at Cloudbridge, a cool place dedicated to restoring the land near Mt. Chirripo. Tom Gode, in back row 6th from the left, is our main man there. Tom is from Minnesota, and he helped us establish this great itinerary 7 years ago.
Our group swimming in a pool in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula. Very refreshing!
Me with Jack Ewing at Hacienda Baru. Jack was a cattle rancher who saw the light and converted Hacienda Baru back to its natural state after most of it was cleared to raise cattle. Jack is an environmental hero of mine.
Pura Vida -- Costa Rica Adventure
February 4, 2013
Many people think I have a “dream job” filled with sunsets, exotic adventures, and excitement. I won’t argue that I love what I do, and adventure is certainly part of it, but so are budgets, scheduling, fundraising and human resources. So, it was a delight for me to get away at the end of January to participate in a WI trip to Costa Rica.
I say participate rather then lead because of the excellent leadership provided by WI staff member Chad Dayton. This was my first trip with Chad, but hopefully not my last. He exemplifies what it means to be a WI leader: competent, caring, humorous, knowledgeable and totally on top of the details.
The other great factor in our success was our group. Ten people, mostly from the midwest, came to enjoy this trip, and did we ever! I knew several of them already, and the experience definitely deepened our relationships. Most, though, were new, and I feel like I have 7 new best friends now—I trust them implicitly and would travel hundreds of miles to see them.
Finally, the landscapes and people of Costa Rica were nothing short of fantastic. Literally, from the mountains to the sea, we experienced so much in a 10 day span:
• We hiked through the jungle, along the beach, and in the mountains.
• We swam in the ocean, under a waterfall in Corcovado, and in a very nice pool in Baru.
• We ate great meals in a variety of settings, from jungle camp, to chic dining rooms, to Café Bamboo in San Gerardo.
• We saw toucans, scarlet macaws, iguanas, tropical fish, three towed sloths and agouti. On our jungle walks we saw the Great Tinamou, or Mountain Hen. After a few hours our 50+ year-old brains could not remember it’s name, so we called that bird the Great Tiramisu, our insiders joke.
• During the trip, we met great people who are working to protect and restore Costa Rica’s amazing eco-system and also care for its people.
Funny thing is, before leaving I thought I had too much to do and I felt guilty about it. I brought some work, and (I hate to admit this), my laptop—Costa Rica is fairly well wired for Wifi and their cell network means you can call, text, and e-mail from almost anywhere. As the trip went on I was able to disconnect and get into the moment. My laptop became a place where we could all share and store photos—a fun thing. If you would like to see our pics click here: Costa Rica Photo Album.
I could go on and on but the moral of this story is the importance of being able to get away, re-frame day-to-day issues, and refresh one’s outlook on life. Being able to facilitate that for thousands of people each year is, for me and I know the rest of our staff, a big reward. We just need to do it more often.
Blue Jean poison dart frog
Notes from the trail
January 26, 2013
Costa Rica is full of so much diversity! I met this little guy, a Blue Jean poison dart frog, in the rainforest near Baru. He is only 4-5 centimeters long. A beautiful way to start the day. We go kayaking later today, then on to Corcavado National Park on the Osa Peninsula tomorrow. We'll be off the "grid" then, in a unique and wonderful place. It is a treat to experience this with such a great group of people. Just what the doctor ordered!
Morning in Costa Rica
Greetings from Costa Rica!
January 24, 2013
I escaped the cold and made it to Costa Rica yesterday. Very nice, enjoying coffee at the Orquideas Inn as I type this. We have a great group of people, as usual. Looking forward to hiking in the rainforest near Baru later today. We had a small earthquake last night--my first.
Your fortune for 2013
Your Fortune for 2013
January 19, 2013
The other day I had lunch at a Chinese restaurant and this was my fortune--no kidding! I'm leaving on a trip to Costa Rica this Wednesday. When will you be buying your ticket? We're signing people up for 2013 trips. Be one of them!
WI staff Josh Garubanda helps kids from the Bronx get in a Wilderness Inquiry canoe on the Harlem River in New York City.
2012 Trail Staff in the shell of our new Kayak Corral up at Little Sand Bay in the Apostle Islands.
We signed an MOU with the US Forest Service in Washington, DC. From left: Erika Gotcher, Nate Lien, Robin Morgan, Liz Close, Dillon McCleod, Mary Wagner, Greg Lais, Deidra McGhee, Josh Garubanda, Joe Meade, Brody, Jim Pena, Adam Hoffman, Liz Just
2012: A year to remember!
December 28, 2012
As 2012 comes to a close, I want to reflect on what was another great year for Wilderness Inquiry. Our staff, volunteers, and supporters accomplished a lot! Most importantly, they touched the lives of more than 16,000 people from ALL walks of life on trips and events. These events ranged from 11,000 kids enjoying day trips on the Mississippi River to Faith Amaro studying whales in the Arctic—and more! Highlights for 2012 include:
Exceeded service goals: We surpassed our goal of serving 15,140 people by 1,205, for a total of 16,345 people served in 2012. Of all the things WI does, reaching this many people is the heart of it.
UWCA: Of those 16,345 served, 11,000 were served through the Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures program, or UWCA. The UWCA provides introductory outdoor experiences for urban youth on the Mississippi River and other areas.
Canoemobile: In an effort to share the UWCA with urban youth throughout the U.S., WI started a traveling canoe program dubbed the “Canoemobile.” Modeled after the “Bookmobile” of the 50's and 60's, the mission of the Canoemobile is to introduce urban youth to urban wilderness close to home. This fall we served 2,000 youth in Milwaukee, Chicago, Michigan City, Louisville, Cincinnati, New York City and Washington, DC. It was very moving!
Kayak Corral: With support from the WM and the Carl & Eloise Pohlad Family Foundations, WI was able to complete the “Kayak Corral” up at our Little Sand Bay Base Camp. This is a great step forward for us. In addition to the Corral, we added a new entrance to the property, and did a few additional touches. Come and see it!
Federal MOU: For many years WI has enjoyed deep partnerships with federal land management agencies. This year, we renewed our Memorandum of Understanding, or “MOU,” with the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Forest Service. Special thanks to T. Destry Jarvis, Janet Zellar, Joe Meade, Kay Ellis, Olivia Ferriter, Gabe Horner, Tina McDonald, Mary Coulombe and all the folks who helped make this happen.
Great River Race: On September 15th we completed the 2nd Annual Great River Race for Student Success on the Mighty Mississippi River, raising over $50,000 to support the UWCA. It was VERY fun, with over 20 companies and organizations sponsoring Voyageur canoes.
Veterans Program: Thanks to the Sierra Club we were able to re-invigorate our programs for veterans and their families. We conducted trips to Yellowstone, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and the 10,000 Islands area of the Everglades.
That is the short of list of highlights for 2012—there were many more! We are excited to move into 2013, our 35th Anniversary Year.
Happy New Year!
P.S. Special thanks to our board of directors--they are the best!!
The Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures program introduced 11,000 kids to the natural world in 2012
Families Integrating Together served 329 people on inclusive family adventures.
We are pleased to have served so many veterans and their families on outdoor adventures throughout the United States.
Benefits Beyond the Journey
December 6, 2012
Share the Adventure is more than just a slogan for us. Our passion is sharing great places with wonderful people—people like you. As stated by our friend Michael McGowen, PhD, Chair of the Wilderness Education Association:
“Wilderness Inquiry believes in wilderness exploration as an inclusive human endeavor and has enabled over a quarter of a million people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to develop appreciation and love, both for the wilderness and for their companions on the journey.”
Wilderness Inquiry’s mission to “Share the Adventure” flows naturally from our passion to connect people and places.
What does this mean for you?
When you travel with us, you are also helping to support programs that help people from all walks of life develop powerful connections to the outdoors and to each other, including:
* Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures: Providing tens of thousands of urban youth with opportunities to discover the “wilderness” in their own backyard.
* Families Integrating Together: Sharing outdoor camping experiences with families from all walks of life.
* Gateway to Adventure: Giving people with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to learn new social and physical skills in outdoor settings.
* Veterans and Military Families: We are honored to serve our nation's veterans through special trips and events designed to help them enjoy the great outdoor freedoms they've helped provide for us all.
* Education in East Africa: When you travel to East Africa with us, you may visit one of the schools or programs our staff help to support, including Kambi School, Enkiteng Lepa School, or Friends of Ngong Road.
As a non-profit organization, all of our resources are focused on programs and services that benefit the public and serve our mission—we have no owners or stakeholders other than you. When you choose Wilderness Inquiry, you are not only getting high quality adventures at a great value, you are also joining an organization that is working to create a world where exploring, cherishing and protecting the outdoors is a human birthright for everyone.
Thank you for Sharing the Adventure!
NYC kids step through a gate in the Bronx to paddle the Harlem River with Wilderness Inquiry.
November 22, 2012
We have so much to be thankful for! While reviewing comments from 2012 I came across this one:
“It’s like there’s this enormous wall in front of you and then you run into this kind of organization and group of people, and they took this enormous wall and put a door right in the middle of it. Not only did they put a door there, but they led you to it, they opened it, and they led you through it…and this whole new world just opens up to you.”
Reading this made me thankful and proud to be involved with “this kind of organization and group of people.” Breaking down barriers and opening people to whole new worlds is what Wilderness Inquiry has been all about for almost 35 years. It takes dedication, vision, and belief to make this happen--the dedication to stick with it through thick and thin, the vision to see a better world, and the belief that it can be done.
I am very thankful to all of our staff, board, volunteers, donors and partners who share the dedication, vision and belief that we can indeed put doors in those enormous walls and invite people through to a whole new world.
Marti and her husband, Ron Erickson, on safari with Wilderness Inquiry in Tanzania.
We have the best board members!
November 16, 2012
Many people rave about Wilderness Inquiry staff, and rightly so! But I want to shed a little light on another group of fantastic folks who work quietly behind the scenes to help Wilderness Inquiry achieve its mission--our wonderful board of directors.
One of our board members, Dr. Marti Erickson, is a world renowned researcher on child development issues. Marti and her daughter, Erin, have their own radio program, website, and more. In addition to her volunteer duties with Wilderness Inquiry, Marti also serves as the board chair for the Children's Nature Network, the organization started by Rich Louv after publishing his book, "Last Child in the Woods."
While Marti has a long and deserved string of credentials, none of them do justice to her wonderful personality, presence, and commitment to making the world a better place. We are so happy to have her involved with WI!
Last week Marti was on TV discussing the many benefits of getting families and young children involved in giving and philanthropy. In this season of giving we encourage you to take a look at what Marti has to say: See Marti on KARE 11
Ellie Hands with a load of organic blue berries at Blue Vista Farms
Paddling in the BWCA was great on the lodge based Boundary Waters trip.
Patti with Masaai warriors
What I've been up to...
October 25, 2012
I know, it's been a while since I've updated my journal. Truth is, I've started posting more to our Facebook page. It's been fun to learn what my kids have known for quite a while--Facebook is one heck of a way to stay in touch! I encourage you to "friend" the Wilderness Inquiry Facebook page.
The last half of the summer was a whirlwind of great trips for me. My wife Patti and I went up to the lodge based BWCA trip with our friends Paul and Sue Schurke. It was a great experience, and certainly a comfortable and delicious way to see the Boundary Waters. I also enjoyed doing the trip with some our very experienced and very fun trip leaders, Sarah Oppelt and Matt Heuer.
The next week I went up for the 2nd Taste of the Apostles trip with Beth Dooley. That was another fabulous experience--great food and company, and our base camp at Little Sand Bay just can't be beat for beauty, comfort and location. We went to a fun gathering at Blue Vista Farms, where we enjoyed great organic food, music, and a glimpse into the cool local life up there. It was a great trip!
Last, but certainly not least, Patti and I went to Kenya for about three weeks. This, too, was fantastic. In some ways it was an exotic trip on the other side of the world, and in others a time with old friends (Muthoga) in familiar areas. We did a safari in the Masaai Mara and Samburu, hiked Mt. Kenya in the bamboo forest, and met with people and programs we work with along the way. This one really merits it's own journal entry so I think I'll come back for that.
September flew by, and so did October. We launched the Canoemobile to take kids out on the Ohio, Harlem and Anacostia Rivers, but that's another story which I will tell soon.
WI group heading to Tiger Tail glacier in Alaska's Prince William Sound
Canoeing the Mississippi River in Wilderness Inquiry's 24' cedar strip canoes is a great way to spend a summers day.
HealthPartners Drs. Charlene McEvoy & Charlie Lais (pictured right & center) present UWCA scholarship to Central High School Vice Principal Dr. Valerie Littles-Butler (left).
Mid Season Report from Greg
July 22, 2012
Hard to believe it’s July 22nd. As usual the summer seems to fly by. In the next month I’ll be on three trips, one to the BWCA, one to the Apostles, and one to Kenya, so I thought it time to update my journal.
The great news is that thousands of people are enjoying truly life changing experiences trough Wilderness Inquiry events. Here’s one example from a young woman who went on an Apostle Island trip with her group:
“In the past 5 years, I've never really had a group outdoor experience where I felt so at ease. This entire trip was challenge by choice, which meant if I needed assistance, I received it, when I asked. And no one made me feel guilty, or like an imposition if I wanted to try to get something for myself.” To read more about Courtney’s experience go to her blog: Courtney's blog
We have a great crew of trail staff and interns this year—truly phenomenal people who make each trip an incredible experience. They are a joy to work with! Other news includes:
1) Major progress at Apostle’s Little Sand Bay basecamp. We now have our “Kayak Corral” up and running so that we don’t have to haul kayaks and gear back and forth by trailer. It’s beautiful! Special thanks to Bayfield Construction, Rocky Tribovich, One Guy and Sons, and all the others who helped get this done.
2) Mississippi River Day Trips have been going out like hot cakes, reaffirming the desire of Twin City residents to paddle the Great River that flows through their community. There have been challenges with high water and heat, which seems to be the “New Normal,” for June now, but those Voyageur Canoes handle just about anything.
3) We have suspended use of the Lock and Dam system in the Twin Cities in an effort to slow the spread of Asian Carp to central Minnesota fisheries. This has caused some logistical issues that we are adjusting to. You may read about Asian carp coming up the Mississippi River.
4) Boundary Waters Canoe Trips continue to be strong despite the fires last year at Pagami Creek. I’m going up to Lake One next week, can’t wait to see it!
5) Prince William Sound sea kayak trip was a big hit this year—people loved it and our new route was a big success. Long time trip leader Kath Sharp does an excellent job.
6) People are discovering the excellent value of our trips to Tanzania and Kenya. No one does a better trip for less money than Wilderness Inquiry. It’s exciting to see these overseas connections develop and continue to flourish.
7) Charlene McEvoy joins our board of Directors. Dr. Charlene McEvoy joined the WI board of Directors this past May. Charlene is a physician at Health Partners, and her claim to fame with WI is that she led the "Health Paddlers" team to glory by winning last years Great River Race for Student Success on the Mississippi River. One benefit of winning is that Charlene was able to award a UWCA scholarship to the school of her choice--see photo of her presenting award to St. Paul's Central High School. We're thrilled to have Charlene onboard for many reasons!
These are just a few of the things happening around Wilderness Inquiry these days. One thing I’ve also been working on is our Facebook page. We’re posting more photos and stories there so if you are on facebook I’d encourage you to “friend” the Wilderness Inquiry page by going to:
Wilderness Inquiry on Facebook
I’ll post more here when I get the chance.
2012 New Trail Staff and Interns at the Little Sand Bay "Corral"
What a great group of people!
June 27, 2012
June has blown by in a flurry of activity! Lot's of trips already as we gear up for July and August. One of the best things about June has been meeting, working with, and training new trail staff and interns. We hired about 25 people to join our ranks of existing staff (up to 60 now), and they are GREAT! Eager, friendly, and very talented. I'd go on trail with any of them.
Winter trip with teenage girls from Stillwater, MN, in 1975. It was -40 F.
Me and Bill in the Boundary Waters
April 28, 2012
A few weeks ago The Marine on St. Croix Gazette published a story about Bill Simpson titled “local man’s life work sharing wilderness.”
Bill Simpson has changed the lives of thousands of people, teaching them that they could do things they thought they couldn’t, and helping them see beyond their own self-imposed limitations. He has done this as an award winning cross-country ski coach, as a special education teacher, and as a wilderness guide and enthusiast.
Of all the people whose lives Bill helped to shape, I have to think he changed mine the most. Without Bill, there would be no Wilderness Inquiry. As I think about it, he laid the foundation to our approach for inclusion. It’s a story worth telling.
When I was 16, I was turned down for a job as a counselor at a camp I had attended. I was devastated, and believed my dream of a career in the outdoors was over. A week or two later, Mike Lynch, one of my high school friends, asked if I wanted to join a property cooperative up on Farm Lake east of Ely, MN. I became a part of what was known as the “Farm Lake Tipi.”
A 28-year-old teacher named Bill Simpson joined the “cooperative” shortly after I did. Bill planned to use the Farm Lake property as a base for trips he wanted to conduct with students. Bill and fellow teacher Tom Rasmussen had recently completed a National Outdoor Leadership course with Paul Petzoldt, and had come back to Minnesota with Petzoldt sleeping bags and gear.
Bill needed help to do this fledgling wilderness program, and I was fortunate enough to have simply been there and been available. So, at age 17, I began assisting Bill, Tom and others on trips to the Boundary Waters. These trips were tremendous growth experiences for me. Bill taught me the ways of the Wilderness, but more importantly he taught me how just about anyone could participate, and I mean really participate. These lessons, I now realize, became the foundation of how to be inclusive with everyone.
One trip in particular stands out—a winter camping trip to the BWCA with 13-14 year old girls. It was bitter cold—40 below zero, and most people thought it would be dangerous or impossible to do the trip. Bill had us wear army surplus “bunny boots” made out of felt, and we dug and made our own snow shelters, called “Quinzees.” He had us dress in layers, and wear wool and down (no fleece back then). Amazingly, it all worked. Everyone had a great time, no one was ever really cold, and no one even had a hint of frost bite or frost nip.
I remember thinking that if we could do that in the winter with 14-year old girls who had no experience, what could other people do in the wilderness? Maybe the notion that you had to be super fit, half-crazy, and outfitted with high tech gear to enjoy the wilderness was a myth. Maybe we just needed to think about it a little differently.
About this time the controversy over motorized use in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) erupted, and people started saying that without motors, the “handicapped, elderly and women” could never enjoy the Wilderness. I was a junior at St. John’s University and wanted to help out, as my earlier experiences with Bill had convinced me that anyone could enjoy the Wilderness.
My sister, Mary, was involved in the early days of the disability rights movement. She knew of my earlier trips with Bill, and she suggested we do a trip to the BWCA involving people with disabilities. That’s when I asked my college pal, Paul Schurke, to help me do a trip to the BWCA that included people with disabilities. Paul was a budding journalist involved with the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) at the time. We did a trip that changed both of our lives in August, 1977, and Paul wrote about it in the MPIRG Gazette, our first press.
It was after that experience that we incorporated and formed the non-profit organization that is Wilderness Inquiry today. But, the notion that anyone could enjoy the wilderness started with Bill Simpson. His passion for “Sharing the Adventure” with people from all walks of life changed me as a teenager, and it continues to shape both of us--and thousands of others--to this day. Thanks Bill!
Paddling in to Boom Island on the Mississippi River above St. Anthony Falls.
A new season of paddling
March 31, 2012
Today I took a walk along the Mississippi River with Josh Garubanda. The leaves are bursting out, and blue flowers were sprouting from the forest floor. It is really quite beautiful! Yesterday, while at the MN Valley Wildlife Refuge, I saw a large Pileated Woodpecker whacking away on a tree just a few feet away--very cool. We are getting very excited about a full season of paddling trips this summer.
Our group on the way up to Shipton's Camp. The peaks of Mt. Kenya are in the background. It was cool to see glaciers on the equator!
Muthoga, our Kenyan staff, clowns around at Lake Nakuru National Park.
Me with my new friends in Maasailand.
Down from the Mountain
January 16, 2012
I am writing this at 4AM, as I am recovering from jet lag after flying home from Nairobi via Paris. In one day I saw Nairobi, the Eiffel Tower, Greenland, and, as we flew in from the north, the Wabakimi Wilderness—frozen and white. Our taxi driver from the airport to home was from Somalia. He laughed as we compared the driving conditions in Minneapolis with those in Kenya. It is a small world.
Andy Walz told me our Kenya trip would be life-changing. Well, I was not so sure that a trip could change my life after all the trips I have done, but, I have to say, this one did. Flying across half the globe is unusual in itself, but the events and people have caused me to pause and ponder a few things—in a good way.
Climbing Mt. Kenya was a unique experience. It was challenging, especially the second long day when we hiked from “Old Moses” to “Shiptan’s Camp.” The eleven kilometer climb went on forever. My knee did hold up though, and the stunning beauty of the place was worth the effort. One of my peak moments was having Francine Murphy, Kristina Arena and most of our University of Minnesota students summit Pt. Lenana at sunrise.
While the mountain was a physical challenge, the rest of the trip challenged the way we think about ourselves. In particular, I thought about many of the people we met in Kenya, starting with our excellent guides, Muthoga and Gishuru. We did have porters for the mountain, mostly farmer friends of Muthoga from where he grew up, Naru Mora, on the flank of the mountain. These guys were great—fun to be with, totally service oriented, and amazingly strong. While we were huffing and puffing up the mountain, they would cruise past us, carrying heavy loads, and cheering us on with “Jambo.” They all had two names, one a Kikuyu name, and one a western or Christian name. I remembered the latter, as I made friends with Patrick, James, Joshua, and Anthony. I can see their faces now, and I wonder what they are doing.
For me, though, the most unusual part of the trip was when we visited Maasai land and encountered three young men who had recently been circumcised. They were about 15 years old, and they wore red cloaks, carried spears, and had their faces and bodies painted with a combo of goat grease and red ochre. They looked the part, and when I suggested we tell them we were from Minnesota, I was politely told they would have no clue where that is.
They did not speak Swahili, but one of them understood a bit of English. After an awkward introduction, we communicated with gestures and facial expressions. They slaughtered two goats as a “gift” to us, and offered the raw organs and a cup of blood as a treat. The Maasai typically eat only meat, blood and milk.
These young men were at the beginning of their time in the bush, a sojourn that lasts for 8 years! During that time, they can visit villages, but they cannot stay in any one for more than two days, and they must live in the bush. All they had was their red cloak, a spear, a knife, and a stick for making fire by friction. To top it off, after 8 years they had to kill a male lion with a spear as a test of leadership.
This is just something they do, and they seemed happy with it. As I got to know them, they were very friendly and even affectionate. They laughed, teased each other and generally behaved as 15-year-old boys do everywhere. One of them reminded me of Jacob Toffler, the son of Sarah Milligan-Toffler, our Associate Executive Director. Shortly after I got home we went to a Bar Mitzvah and Jacob was there. I thought about the two different lives these young men would live—a world away from each other.
I’d like to introduce Jacob to the young Maasai warrior I met. One day I will.
Mt. Kenya is a fascinating place.
A Mountain to Climb
December 28, 2011
As I look over my journal entries for 2011 I’m not so sure that I’ve captured the flavor and tenor of 2011. There are many entries about people who passed away, including my mother, but despite that sadness I do not think of 2011 as a year of loss. Mostly, I think of this year as one of progress and hope. It has been a time of building for a better tomorrow. I am excited for 2012!
Speaking of tomorrow, shortly I will board a plane to Kenya to lead a trip with students from the University of Minnesota, as well as some friends from Toronto. I’ve been preparing and training for this trip for months, and I am very excited that the day has finally arrived.
The centerpiece of this trip is climbing Mt. Kenya, an old volcano that dominates the sky north of Nairobi. There are several peaks on Mt. Kenya, but we’ll climb to Pt. Lenana, which is about 16,400 ft high. The more I learn about Mt. Kenya the more excited I am. Experiencing an alpine meadow at the equator will be a unique experience. There are a few glaciers left on Mt. Kenya, although they are shrinking like glaciers everywhere.
Normally, I am a lowland sort of guy, canoeing, kayaking or hiking at or near sea level. So the climb will be something new. Yes, I’ve trained and I do have diomox, the altitude sickness medication. My knee, which I twisted on a trip to the Grand Canyon in September, is feeling strong and relatively pain free (especially with ibruprofin). But, I think, the secret will be slow and steady climbing and plenty of water.
This trip has given me something to focus on throughout the year, and it feels a bit strange that it is now here. I’ll have many days to think about things as we hike the mountain and do our safari. Usually, I never have that sort of uninterrupted time. I’m looking forward to it.
I want to thank our tremendous staff who will be at headquarters finishing up on this year and getting ready for the next. It’s great to have such a dedicated, competent team working at WI. They are a lot of fun too!
Happy New Year!
Dick and Amy Owen at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. They did more than 20 WI trips together.
Dick on a trip on the Green River.
December 16, 2011
Our dear friend Richard R. (Dick) Owen, M.D., passed away on December 11, in Eden Prairie, MN, at the age of 83.
Dick joined the Wilderness Inquiry board of directors in 1993, and served until 2005. For several of those years he was our board chair. He had a major influence on the growth and development of the organization.
Dick loved adventure and wilderness and the outdoors. He and his wife, Amy, went on over 20 trips with Wilderness Inquiry, including Lake Powell, the Everglades, Cumberland Island, and, of course, the Boundary Waters.
Dick connected with all sorts of people, especially those who may have been at the social margin of a group. He would reach out to them and bring them in to the center of the group. Dick lived and breathed the concept of inclusion.
Dick loved to tell stories and talk about his trips. He loved to show slides! It was always the case that Dick’s favorite WI trail staff were the ones he just did a trip with. He loved them all, and they all loved him.
As the word of Dick’s death has gone out to the WI community, we’ve received dozens of notes from former trail staff and others. Here is a story from David Graham, who now lives in Masachussets. He wrote:
"I have very fond memories of Dick and Amy and all they have done at WI. I was lucky enough to take them both to Menogyn for a dog sled trip one winter. I tried the entire trip to beat Dick at ping-pong, but he kicked my tail something fierce, maybe it was his wheelchair at eye level with the table. Also on that trip, I was paired up with Amy on the dog loop one morning. Out on Duncan Lake, we stopped to let her drive and just when I got her on the rails and yanked on the hook, the dogs knew it was time to go and lunged forward, dumping Amy off the back of the sled. She was laughing so hard…what a ride it was!"
Dick possessed an active, creative mind. He was always thinking and connecting things. He once told me, “Greg, I have 10,000 new ideas every day, but only 5,000 of them are any good.” I think he was telling the truth!
Dick Owen shared his gifts with thousands of people through his career as a Rehabilitation Doctor, as a Medical Director at Sister Kenny Institute and Courage Center, and as a community volunteer. He changed the way we think of disability, and he pioneered new approaches in everything he was involved with. He made a difference.
To me, Dick was a mentor, a coach, and a guy who was always in my corner. I knew I could always count on him. He taught me many lessons about life, but most of all, Dick was a true friend, one who made the world a better place.
Dick is survived by Amy, his wife of 58 years, children Rick (Ann), Don (Meg), Marnie, and grandchildren Jeremy, David, Rebecca and David.
Darlene Wahl, Kevin Proescholdt, and Julie Condecon hoist a Chinook on the Big Salmon River in 1984.
November 20, 2011
We received the sad news that long-time Wilderness Inquiry trip participant and National Park Service Ranger Darlene Wahl passed away. Darlene went on many trips with WI, including two with me, the 1981 trip to Ontario that resulted in the documentary "Wilderness Access" by Octavio Molina, and our first trip the the Yukon in 1984. Born and raised in Madison, WI, Darlene had a visual impairment, but she never let that get in her way. Darlene was talented, kind, and fun to be with. Our hearts go out to her family in this difficult time. For a complete story on Darlene go to the National Park Service memorial site: Click Here
This is the water spout that erupted from a side canyon--it was awesome!
Floating in the canyon. That's my brother Charlie with his arms outstretched.
Havasu Canyon in the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Raft Trip
October 23, 2011
During the first two weeks of September I had the privilege of rafting the Grand Canyon from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek with 27 wonderful compatriots of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. This was a trip conducted jointly by Wilderness Inquiry, Canyon Explorations, and the Arizona Raft Company (AZRA).
Within our merry band of travelers we had people with a variety of physical challenges, including blindness, cerebral palsy, post-polio syndrome, spinal cord injury and more. As usual, though, none of that really mattered as we became a “short-term tribe” in a matter of hours, enjoying the spectaculars beauty of the Grand Canyon together every day. That’s the thing about taking these trips, whatever differences you may perceive among your fellow travelers quickly fade away as the beauty and grandeur of nature take over.
We saw many wonderful things on the trip, including Big Horned Sheep, Chuck-Walla Lizards and the Great Unconformity, a break in the geologic record of the earth that essentially wipes out a billion years rock and sediment. No one knows why it is gone, but it is. A billion years! Hard to think about that one.
The whitewater was also spectacular. Crystal, Bert’s, Lava, all thrilling. We did flip one raft on Bert’s, and another on rapid 205. No one was hurt, nor did we lose any gear, but it was quite a ride. I rowed a raft through a couple of smaller, more straightforward rapids, like Kaibab. It was fun. Our boat “men” (5 were women), are highly skilled and know what they are doing.
Our river guides were truly special people, always working to make the experience as good as it could be. They spoiled us! I turned 55 on the 10th day of the trip and they mixed me up a nice bucket of margaritas, complete with ice and little umbrellas!
That’s a birthday I’ll never forget as I twisted my knee in Havasu Canyon the day before—nothing dramatic, just getting out of the water and slipped back on my right leg. Laying in my tent with a bum leg, realizing I was now officially eligible for AARP was not the highlight of the trip, but it was insightful. Here’s what I thought about:
* People who live with chronic pain are really at a disadvantage. Way too much of your though process goes into how do you protect yourself and avoid more pain.
* It’s harder to sit by and watch people work than to be able to get in there and do it. I had to watch folks unload rafts and move things around and could not help so much. That was a tough position for me to be in, I didn’t like it.
* The awesome beauty and power of the Wilderness is great tonic for the soul. Right after I twisted my knee I was sitting in the water chilling my leg, when a terrific storm blew up the canyon. I watched helplessly as heavy metal objects were blown hither and thither around Susan and Chris, two of our guides. Of course, I was soaked, and the pelting rain actually hurt. After it was over, a huge waterfall erupted from a side canyon spewing boulders, mud and water—truly awesome. I don’t think I felt a lick of knee pain during that little ordeal.
I never thought about these things, of course, until they happened to me. In all of my 350 Wilderness trips or so I’ve never had more than a scrape or a bee sting, so this was an eye opener. Seems silly that we learn that way. But we do.
If you would like to see more photos from that trip go to the Grand Canyon in our trip offerings and click on photo gallery.
Bette Lais, 1924 - 2011
Bette Lais in 1936 at Leech Lake, MN.
Bette Lais with hats she knit for children.
October 15, 2011
My mother, Elizabeth (Bette) Lais, passed away on September 14th, at the age of 87.
Bette Lais grew up in Worthington, MN, where my grandfather, Arnold Brecht, practiced law. Grandpa was the Nobles County Attorney in the 30’s and 40’s. Among his associates were a couple from Adrian, MN, named Joe and Gertrude Lais, my paternal grandparents. My Mom met my Dad when they were little children during the depression, but they did not get along so well until after World War II. It’s a long and fun story but, Bette and Don Lais married on October 7th, 1950. They settled in St. Paul, MN, where they lived together for 60 years.
My mother received her degree in nursing from the College of St. Catherine. Like most women of that time, she took 20 years off from her career to raise her children, returning to work as a psychiatric nurse when we were teenagers (we had prepared her well for the job!).
Among the countless gifts my mother gave me, I have to say that she was the one who nurtured my love of the outdoors and set me up for the career path I chose. My mom always liked the outdoors. Her parents took her fishing as a girl, and they had a cabin on Big Trout Lake on the Whitefish Lake chain north of Brainerd. It was at the cabin on Big Trout where I first fell in love with the environment and the notion of Wilderness—though I would never have described it that way at the time.
My mom loved to walk the old road through the forest at Trout Lake and look for agates and interesting rocks. I would walk with her, though many times she would end up carrying me home on her back. On those walks, I felt like I was following Sacagawea through the wilderness, and my connection to the land was born. My grandmother, Nana (Helen Brecht), played a role in this too as she would take me fishing off the end of the dock. I’ll never forget watching the sunfish hover around the baited hook while grandma, in her plaid woolen jacket, smoked her Lucky Strikes and sipped coffee from a steaming mug. I can still see Grandma’s red lipstick on the top of that white mug!
When I was 12, my mother enrolled me into YMCA Camp St. Croix, and I took my first “trip,” hiking on foot from camp to Willow River State park, carrying a #4 Duluth Pack. Physically it was by far the most challenging thing I had done up to that point, and the experience changed me. I grew up. I loved it. I wanted more. Mom always supported me going to camp, which I did for a number of years, discovering the Boundary Waters along the way, but that is a story for another time.
If my mother did not help me find a connection to the land, it’s hard to say whether I would have gone on to start Wilderness Inquiry. Certainly, other people helped build that connection, but mom laid the foundation. I believe that this connection can be started in anyone through any number of outdoor experiences, which is, of course, why I started WI in the first place.
Mom had many interests, and she was always doing things and staying busy. She knitted afghans, made ceramics, and collected figurines of turtles. She possessed the gift of curiosity. She loved people and she had many, many friends. She was always devoted to her seven children, and always put our needs first. She lived a good life. I miss her!
Kya in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area
A great scene from the trip--taken by John Chevalier
John Tuttle also volunteers for Wilderness Inquiry.
I love getting letters like this one...
July 7, 2011
Where to begin...
We arrived back in town Tuesday evening at around 8:00 returning from our WI trip into the BWCA with our two fantastic guides (and new extended family) Kya Marienfeld and John Chevaliers.
We came to the table late...really late, and asked Wilderness Inquiry to help us put a trip together to get our family out on a trip and to get to know WI a bit better. WI was already fully into it's preparations for what appears to be a very full summer schedule of trips and the state was on the verge of a potential government shutdown (which is now in full swing). Amidst all of this Lee Friedman patiently squeezed a meeting with Nina and I into his busy schedule and deftly helped us figure out a trip that fit our family perfectly. The whole process was done with such grace and professionalism it demonstrates the standard which other organizations can only hope to achieve.
Not knowing how you select and assign guides to a trip and setting up a trip on such short notice I was curious and a bit nervous about how our guides would work out. I have met any WI staff and quite a few of our summer guide staff over the years and have been impressed by them all in their enthusiasm and training but I still wondered if our situation would warrant "whoever is available".
I should have known better. Our guides Kya and John cloudn't have been a better fit for our funky family. Kya and John were great leaders and clearly well trained in group dynamics. Both read situations well and handled various situations easily and with an experienced hand that impressed me. As far as working with a family that has a range of outdoor experience from none to extensive (and forgotten through age) they were patient, instructive and again, impressive. If I had or ever get the chance to hire or recommend for hire either of these two individuals it would be my pleasure.
The Trail Philosophy
I've taken many trips with and without guides in places all over the world. From the start of our trip to the end Kya and John followed a philosophy which has clearly been refined from years of actual trail experience with a full range of group leadership experiences. Nothing was assumed and the communication of WI's trail philosophy from conduct, to safety, to the overall appreciation of what we were doing, how we did it and with whom we were doing it was integrated into discussions and even simple communications that everyone could appreciate and learn from.
Again, WI has set a standard that most organizations would be lucky to achieve.
Thank You, We'll be back
During the our trip I asked each of my family members separately if they would do another of these trips....each of the kids assumed that this would be a new family tradition.
You've made future trip decisions a whole lot easier for the Tuttle family, The only question is...where to go next?
Haberman, A Media + Marketing Firm
That's me at the entrance to Picnic Island in Ft. Snelling State Park on June 4th. Note the river flowing across the road behind me.
The Second Rising
June 4, 2011
This has been quite a spring in terms of river levels and flooding. We knew there would be a big flood due to so much snow fall over the winter, but now the Mississippi River has risen beyond flood stage due to precipitation. We've had to shift many of our day trips to local lakes in the Twin Cities as the lock and dam system has been closed. With water levers as high as they are it isn't the best idea safety wise to be out on the River. Hopefully we'll be able to get out on the River in a few days.
I was down on Omaha last week meeting with the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation folks and people from the National Park Service. The Missouri River is also in flood stage, and they expect that to continue. We're planning a big UWCA event down there at the end of July. Let's hope things dry out a bit and we can get back to enjoying these beautiful rivers.
Tom Widney in the BWCA in 1970.
My friend Tom Widney
May 20, 2011
We lost a dear friend this week. For over twenty five years Tom Widney has been a staunch advocate for Wilderness Inquiry and for providing opportunities for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. Raised in Oklahoma and living in New Mexico, Tom's passion for life and his love of wilderness and people were truly inspiring. His famous laugh, his kindness, and his tremendous sense of humor endeared him to all.
I first went on a trip with Tom in the mid 1980's, to Pashkakogan Lake in NW Ontario. We drove up in an old yellow van named Spot, paddled and portaged through some amazing wilderness, and had a great time. One day, Tom was trolling for fish and he caught a nice 4 lb walleye. While reeling it up to the canoe, a HUGE northern bit the walleye, thrashing for several minutes before biting that walleye in half. Tom did not get to eat that fish, but we did gain a life-long memory and a life-long friendship. I'll never forget driving home from that trip, singing Bob Dylan tunes with Tom at the top of our lungs!
Tom did many trips with WI, to the NW Territories, Montana, Costa Rica, San Juan River, and, just last year, to the Grass River in northern Manitoba. He was an adventurer, and he did many trips on his own, and with his family. He was always eager to share his adventures, and he was always interested in helping others learn and grow and find their passion for life.
One of the turning points in Tom's life was when he was a BWCA guide for Boy Scouts in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in the early 1970's. While riding in a van back to their base, a freak accident left him paralyzed as an “incomplete” quadriplegic. No doubt this had a profound impact on him, but Tom was the kind of person you did not consider to be disabled. His zest for life and his practical, straight forward approach to all things put him on the level as a peer, as a friend, and as a colleague in all things. In all of the trips I did with Tom, I barely ever considered the fact that he used a wheelchair. It just didn't seem to matter. We figured it out, and we laughed along the way. I can hear him laughing now…
Tom passed away Tuesday night, May 17th, due to complications from stomach cancer. His brother Cole was at his side. We will miss him dearly.
Paul Schurke and Tom Widney cross a portage on their Grass River trip in northern Manitoba.
Some things change, and some things stay the same.
April 1, 2011
As usual, many things have happened in the last month. I did a great trip in Belize with the staff from Green, Holcomb, and Fisher (more on that later), we hired Rolf Thompson, and much, much more. Today, Sarah Milligan-Toffler asked me to help her find some photos for our annual report. In doing so, I came across this picture of my friend and WI co-founder Paul Schurke giving a lift to another long-time friend named Tom Widney.
It was great to see these two fine people engaged in, well, the very essence of Wilderness Inquiry. Over the last 10 years, I've noticed that many early WI trail staff, like Paul, are coming back to lead trips and share their passion for the outdoors with everyone. We couldn't find better, more qualified, staff than people like Paul, Geoff Barnard, Kath Sharp, Bill Simpson and others. They are excellent leaders, and fine people.
Of course, we have many excellent younger staff -- age is really not a determining factor in this regard. The thing that is most rewarding for me is to see the mix of staff of all ages and backgrounds, working together, having a great time, and sharing their passion. This also fits with WI's mission and it is just woven throughout the organization. No fooling!
Hope you will join us on the trail!
P.S. The photo of Paul and Tom was taken by Nancy Crase, another long time friend and associate. For many years Nancy worked as an editor/publisher of Sports 'N Spokes, a magazine that has featured Wilderness Inquiry adventures many times. Thanks Nancy!
Jenni and Harrison O'Link in the WI kitchen.
Another addition to the team
March 3, 2011
This past Wednesday Jenni O'Link stopped by with her new son, Harrison James. He's a good looking guy and very well behaved. Our staff welcomed Harrison to the team and we look forward to having him join our trail staff in 2032.
Time goes by so fast. It seems like yesterday since my last entry, and it's already been over a month. We have many trips coming and going, to the Boundary Waters, to the Everglades, and more. I am leaving in the morning on one of our trips to Belize with Dean Sanberg. I'm really looking forward to it!
Ryan Holloway talking on the phone at my desk. He's a natural!
January 26, 2011
As I mentioned in my previous post, Mark and Briley Holloway have a wonderful new addition to their family--son Ryan. Ryan came by for a visit to our office this week, and our fun loving staff decided he might make a good future Executive Director of Wilderness Inquiry some day. As you can see by the photo, he jumped right in, making calls and setting up trips.
As usual, we've been busy. Today I signed about 300 thank you letters for people who donated money to our Annual Fund. That's a good busy to have! Tomorrow, our Women's BWCA Lodge based winter adventure leaves for West Bearskin Lake. We've been doing those trips with YMCA Camp Menogyn for almost 20 years. It's exciting!
Last week we had a trip from Costa Rica return. This was a student group from the University Of Minnesota. They had a wonderful time with Geoff Barnard and crew. Over the next few weeks we'll have trips to Florida's 10,000 Islands of the Everglades, Belize, Hawaii, and other destinations. So things are starting to buzz again!
Happy New Year
December 31, 2010
Happy New Year!
We just wanted to thank everyone who helped to make 2010 one of the best years ever for Wilderness Inquiry. Donors, participants, volunteers, partners and staff—all of you helped us accomplish so much this year!
• We served over 16,000 people on trips and events—including over 8,000 youth.
• Our Apostle Islands base is up and running. We have more to do there, but this year hundreds of people enjoyed this special place.
• The Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures continues to grow and introduce thousands of urban kids to the outdoors. It is really something to see 20 Voyageur canoes paddle down the Mississippi River!
• We were honored to receive the Non-profit Excellence Award from the MN Council of Non-profits and MAP for non-profits.
• Last, but certainly not least, we are thrilled to welcome the newest member of our team, Mr. Ryan Holloway, who was born to Mark and Briley Holloway on December 24th. Ryan will be leading WI trips in the 2031 tripping season.
We wish you all the best!
Our group celebrates the successful christening of the Herbert C. Johnson. Herb is sitting in a wheelchair next to the canoe.
Avery and Anna Rapson, Herb's grandchildren, place a ceremonial cedar bough on the seat of the Herbert C. Johnson.
Dedication of the Herbert C. Johnson
December 23, 2010
When I was 21 years old I met a successful businessman named Herb Johnson. Among many other things, Herb was an ardent environmentalist who helped to found the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Wilderness Inquiry, and a host of civic and high technology organizations. Herb took me under his wing and taught me many lessons, but the lesson I remember most is about integrity. He always told me, "Greg, your word is your bond, always honor it."
On Sunday, December 18th, we named a 24' Voyageur in honor of Herb Johnson in the presence of family, friends, and Herb himself. It was a thrill and an honor to do this for someone who did so much to make Wilderness Inquiry the organization it is today. So thank you, Herb, for believing in us way back when!
Urban Youth Paddle the Mississippi River
WI's Board of Directors
Recipient of 2010 Nonprofit Excellence Award
September 10, 2010
We are thrilled to announce that Wilderness Inquiry will be receiving the Non-Profit Excellence Award from the Management Assistance Program and the Minnesota Council of Non-Profits at their annual conference on October 7th.
We cannot begin to tell you how honored we all are to receive this award. Our board, staff, interns and volunteers all contribute to make WI what it is today.
Excellence in a Large Organization
Wilderness Inquiry, Minneapolis, MN
Since 1978, Wilderness Inquiry has pioneered integrated outdoor programs, setting best practice standards and serving more than 275,000 people with and without disabilities from Minnesota and around the world.
This nonprofit organization was founded on the idea that shared outdoor experiences have the power to transform individuals and communities – a discovery made after an eight-day trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for 9 people with and without disabilities, organized to demonstrate that motors were not required for the handicapped, the elderly and women to access the wilderness. While the original intent may have been to keep motors out of the Boundary Waters, the result was the discovery that shared wilderness adventures with mixed groups of people bring out the best in all involved.
Today, Wilderness Inquiry continues to bring out the best in people thanks to underlying excellence throughout the organization, as demonstrated by its alignment with the Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence and noteworthy accomplishments.
Wilderness Inquiry has:
• Formed strategic alliances with the National Park Service, the Mississippi River Fund, the Minneapolis and Saint Paul schools, and other organizations, in order to connect 10,000 urban youth annually to the amazing outdoor activities in their own backyard.
• Used strategic planning to achieve aggressive growth goals for each of the past 15 years; and ended 2009 as one of their most successful years ever, in terms of people served, achieving mission and meeting revenue goals.
• Completed two successful capital campaigns in the last 10 years, resulting in establishing an office headquarters and warehouse in Dinkytown and an outpost near Little Sand Bay which serves as a base camp for their Apostle Islands' programs.
• Achieved donor loyalty. Ninety percent of the organization's donors have been giving for five years or more with an average gift of $250 or more.
• Developed a board recruitment matrix that appears to be a best practice.
• Active collaborations with more than 100 different organizations serving youth, families, people with disabilities, low-income families and the elderly.
• Actively engaged in evaluating the results of its work both through internal and independent studies. (Participated in more than 30 independent studies.)
Wilderness Inquiry clearly demonstrates its alignment with the Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence and as such, has been awarded the 2010 Nonprofit Award for Excellence in a Large Organization.
Don Lais on board the Jonathan Paddleford
A Tribute to Don Lais
August 28, 2010
As I mentioned below, my father, Donald Lais, passed away on July 23rd. He lived a long and good life, and he died with family present. I want to thank the many of you who reached out to me and our family during that time and tell you a little about the role my Dad played in Wilderness Inquiry.
When I was a teenager, I always told my Dad that I wanted to work in the outdoors somewhere. He said that I should get a job with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources or something like that. My Dad was an attorney in St. Paul, MN, and he always wanted me to join his firm. He did not care much for camping, he said he had his fill of it from 1943-45.
Well, at the age of 16 I joined this group of people who had a cabin in Ely, MN, that eventually evolved into Wilderness Inquiry. My Dad was always helpful, in fact he incorporated the group as the "Wilderness Inquiry Association," and he also incorporated "Wilderness Inquiry II," which evolved into the organization you see today. My Dad, his secretary Margaret Estes, and I were the first three to sign those articles. His advice and guidance were crucial in those early years.
In the late 70's after I attended St. John's University I was planning to go to law school, but decided to pursue my passion with Wilderness Inquiry for a while. My Dad always chided me on when would I get a real job, as the first five years of building WI was a decidedly volunteer and grass roots effort.
In 1979, a woman named Julie Corty came on one of our trips to the Boundary Waters. Julie was beautiful, sophisticated, and we thought quite a bit older than us at the age of 28. She said she was freelancing for the New York Times and that she would submit an article about her trip. Well, she did, and it was published--"Disabled Blaze New Trails in the Wilderness." Julie Corty is still involved to this day.
We thought we had struck a media gold mine to be featured in the New York Times and that we were destined for stardom. Good things did happen, but not as we thought they would. One big benefit that I now realize and appreciate is that the article had a big impact on my parents. They were totally proud of the fact that their son and his work were featured in the New York Times, and they showed that article to countless friends. That article helped convinced my Dad that we had, in fact, created something real.
My Dad was always great to his family. A WW II vet who served under General George Patton, he was truly a member of Tom Brokow's "Greatest Generation." Throughout the years he always supported Wilderness Inquiry--attending every benefit, golfing at our golf tournaments, and distributing literature to anyone who would take it. He and our Mom, as well as Paul Schurke's Mom, Lois, were our biggest boosters.
Ironically and perhaps fittingly, the Minneapolis Star Tribune honored him in an obituary about a week after he died. On the flip side of the same piece of newspaper was a big article about Wilderness Inquiry and a program we are doing called Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures. Dad's obit never mentioned Wilderness Inquiry, nor did the article mention him, but I certainly noticed it. I will save that page of the paper, and place a copy in the folder of Wilderness Inquiry's original articles of incorporation.
Given everything, it seems the appropriate thing to do.
So, yes, we are still running many, many trips! I just returned from our Wabakimi fishing trip in northern Ontario. My brother, Charlie, and Paul Schurke were on the trip, as well as 5 other great people, so it was a special time for me. Paul caught the biggest fish of his life, a 30lb northern pike. He was giddy with joy. Charlie and I watched a black bear swim across a lake, and then we had a toast to our Dad under the stars.
So here's a salute to my Dad, Donald Lais! He's one of the people who had a huge impact on Wilderness Inquiry. He will be missed.
Obama Administration officials gather on Harriet Island to celebrate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's award of $186,000 to Wilderness Inquiry for the UWCA. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is standing next to WI Executive Director Greg Lais on the right of this photo.
August 7, 2010
As usual, I've been tardy in writing on this blog. A lot of things are happening—so many I'm not quite sure where to begin. Our staff have been out there on rivers and trails throughout the continent, actually on two continents, and the office has been a buzz with activity.
Here's a partial list:
1) 12 youth from St. Paul Public Schools AVID program are leaving by train for Glacier National Park tonight. Initiated by St. Paul's Mayor Chris Coleman, this event is a big deal and is another great example of interagency cooperation with the National Park Service, St. Paul Public Schools, and others to serve these great teens. All aboard the Amtrack at11PM!
2) On Wednesday, Aug 4th, WI was awarded a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for $186,000 to continue to serve kids on the Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures program. EPA Adminsitrator Lisa Jackson, along with Congresspersons Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum attended the event at Harriet Island, along with officials from the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the National Park Service and USDA Forest Service.
3) In July, we served 2,000 Minneapolis Public Schools summer school students on day trips and overnights on the Mississippi River, in part with funding from the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). This is all part of our collaboration with the National Park Service, the Mississippi River Fund, the MN DNR and others to serve 10,000 kids per year on the Mississippi River. These are truly life changing experiences for these kids—most of whom have never been in a boat before, much less a canoe.
4) On July 31st we took long time board member Debbie Bancroft and her family on a canoe trip on the Mississippi River in celebration of her 80th birthday.
5) Our trips to Yellowstone, Olympic, Apostles and Voyageurs National Park are all taking place. We're sending groups out to Montana's Missouri River on the Lewis and Clark trail. Great stuff!
6) Andy Walz is leading a WI trip in Kenya right now. We have not heard from them, but that is good news. Paul Schurke and Nate Benham are leading our first expedition to the Grass River in far northern Manitoba, and board member Tom Nelson reported that our horsepack trip to the Colorado Rockies was as fun as ever.
7) Next week I leave to do a trip up in Ontario's Wabakimi Wilderness—I can't wait. My brother Charlie signed up to go, as did 7 others.
8) We launched several new Voyageur canoes, including the Neil Dubois, which was purchased with proceeds from the Great Wide Open golf tournament and the Mississippi River fund. The Great Wide Open is happening again this coming Wednesday.
9) In May we hired Mark Holloway as our Program Director. We love him!
10) On a personal note, my father, Don Lais, passed away on July 23rd at the age of 85. He died peacefully surrounded by family. He was always there for us, and we'll miss him. He incorporated Wilderness Inquiry back in 1978, and he always supported the program. Initially he thought it was a bit unusual, but he got used to it.
That's a snippet of events in the last month or so. More to come! August and September are very busy months for us.
Hope you will join us on the trail!
May 15, 2010
Yesterday we did our 2nd annual paddle on the Mississippi River with our community partners for the "UWCA" (Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures). Great fun and great people from all sorts of organizations.
The weather was fantastic and everyone had a great time. I could not resist declaring that everyone there was now a member of the honorary society of River Rats. David Wiggins from the National Park Service told me that the origin of the term "river rat" is the musk-rat--that humble, swamp dwelling creature that is cousin to the beaver.
In thinking about that I decided it was appropriate for this group. Many people think that a river rat is an unwashed person, usually addicted to playing poker, who lives a less than savory life-style. Let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth! While I am certain that every one of our paddlers had indeed showered that morning, there is much more to being a river rat than personal hygiene.
River rats are humble. They do not think much about what station in life they occupy while on the river--their senses are tuned into other, more important matters. These people really care about the environment, and they care for the other creatures that live in and along the river.
In the case of the Mississippi River, this includes the 2.5 million people who live in the greater Twin Cities Area. River rats are natural community builders. They connect with their neighbors in meaningful ways to share the bounty that is the river.
Our group from yesterday fits that profile. As we move forward to serve 10,000 urban youth per year on the Mississippi River I cannot think of a better, more dedicated or more capable group of partners to do this with.
St. Paul, MN
2010 Season is Launched
May 8, 2010
In my mind, the May Day festival in Minneapolis is the start of the 2010 summer season for Wilderness Inquiry. My wife, Patti, and I rode our bikes up to see what was happening at Powderhorn Park this year.
As usual, it was quite a scene. There were approximately 50,000 people gathered to watch the parade down Lake Street with the Heart of the Beast puppets, and the greeting of the “Tree of Life” at Powderhorn Park. Jenni O'Link and her crew from Wilderness Inquiry were there to introduce people to paddling. People from all walks of life wearing every color of clothing imaginable were streaming in to get into our Voyageur Canoes.
I was impressed by the sheer volume of the event. Our crew was highly organized and everyone had a smile on their face—clearly they loved doing it, despite the fact that they were in constant motion for over six hours. They served 1,157 people in that time—a new record for one of these canoe events. It was great to see.
So, the season is upon us! Trips are gearing up, rosters are filling, and staff training is just around the corner. It's an exciting time.
If you have not reserved your spot on a trip yet you should do so right away. Trips are filling up quickly.
Hope to see you on the trail!
Spring is Here!
March 14, 2010
Spring is upon us--it was 60 degrees and sunny today! Just two weeks ago it seems we were mired in an endless winter in Minnesota--snow piles so high they presented a traffic hazard. Today, the snow is almost gone. Wow!
Yesterday I took my usual Saturday AM walk around Lake Nokomis with my friend Rolf Thompson. Rolf was the director for Camp Menogyn, Camp Widjiwagan, and Camp Manitowish. We've been good friends for over 20 years.
On our walk, we saw two Bald Eagles soaring across the frozen lake. One of them flew within a few feet overhead of us. It's really amazing how these birds have come back since the DDT ban. I'm really glad that I live in a city where seeing them fly around is not so uncommon.
This next week we are upgrading our ALP, Gateway, and Family websites. They've been somewhat buried in our regular website, so it will be good to get them out and more accessible to folks.
Snowy Owl Sighting
February 14, 2010
The New Year is well upon us, and it's shaping up to be a good one at Wilderness Inquiry. As I write this, we have trips out to the Boundary Waters, the Bahamas, Belize, Costa Rica and Florida's 10,000 Islands of the Everglades. Fun stuff!
Last week, I was in my office going over priorities with Megan Ihlenfeld when I noticed a white bump on the roof of the townhouse across the street. It took me a while to figure out that it was not just snow and ice—it was a Snowy Owl! That majestic bird sat up there in the sun all day, delighting everyone who had a chance to see it.
We took that owl as a good omen for 2010. As I've said before, despite the rough economy, 2009 turned out to be our best year ever. This one seems to be on the same track.
Happy Holidays from Wilderness Inquiry
December 20, 2009
This has been a year for the record books at Wilderness Inquiry. Personally, I was able to get out on 4 extended trips, as well as a dozen or so day trips and workshops.
Despite tough economic times, we truly had one of our best years. Some of the highlights include:
• Served 13,568 people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities on 321 events.
• Launched Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures (aka the UWCA), with our partners the National Park Service, the Mississippi River Fund, and more. We served 4,000 inner city youth this summer and we're looking to double that next summer.
• Opened our Apostle Islands base camp at Little Sand Bay, and started a new family program there that has been VERY successful.
• Introduced over 8,000 people to the outdoors through our outdoor workshop programs.
• In a few weeks we are sending Youth Leadership participant Ziggy Norberg to Washington, DC, to represent the Midwest at a new, inclusive youth leadership conference.
• Various aspects of WI were featured in the New York Times, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio, and other media outlets.
Our staff and volunteers worked pretty hard to do this, but we also had fun doing it—getting people out IS our passion.
I want you to know how important you are to our efforts. The one concern on an otherwise excellent year is that we are a little behind on our fundraising goal.
If you are planning to make a contribution--thank you! You can donate now by clicking on the Support WI tab on the top of your screen.
If you are still considering whether or not to give, I want you to know that we really need your continued support--at whatever level--to help us end the year strong. Each gift really is important to us.
I also want to tell you about a special situation we are in this year. We have an $80,000 challenge grant from the Frey Foundation. In order to receive this grant, we have to raise $80,000 in new or increased gifts.
Your support is vital to our efforts--we really couldn't do it without you. Call or email me if you have questions.
2009 Trip Evaluations
November 19, 2009
I was just looking through trip evaluations from our 2009 trips. There were some great stories in there! Thought I would share a few of them here with you:
I found the WI trip leaders to be exceptionally competent, knowledgeable and possessing great communication skills. Julia O. Missouri River
I wanted to let you know the group of WI staff that you sent on this trip were wonderful. It was because of their knowledge, and ability to make things so much fun, and also their level of energy that the trip went so great. I would definitely go with this staff again. Mary W. Voyageurs National Park
I didn't have many expectations of the trip because I had no idea of what I was getting into, my camping and kayaking experiences having been minimal. There was great food, great company and beautiful sites. I'm really glad I went. I was VERY impressed by our group leaders--they were amazing. They were knowledgeable, professional, they took an interest in every camper, I felt very safe under their care and they were a lot of fun. It's great to see people work so hard and show such passion for what they do.
I was impressed with the patience and inclusiveness of staff. Great leadership all the way around. They set a comfortable, friendly, and professional tone to the entire experience. Rise V., BWCA winter adventure
I changed my view of Lake Superior. I felt that I discovered her in a whole new way. I didn't know how wonderful it is to be so close to the water, to be literally on the water. Kyoko K. Apostle Islands
My first trip with Wilderness Inquiry was fabulous in every respect! But if there has to be one moment to write about, it would be Day 2, sitting in the kayak with one "new" friend and one "old" friend having paddled for an hour and looking up from under one of the sea caves. I saw a rock shelf above me that was covered in a varitey of green hues and shapes, different mosses and ferns...looking like a tapestry woven for the Goddess of Nature! It was stunning, and a lucky few ever get to see it. I felt held up by the safety of the kayak, the love of friends, the strength of Lake Superior, and the expertise of Courtney and Rebecca (our WI guides)! Thank you all. Laurel L., Apostle Islands
Halfway back from Sand Island, in the middle of the calm lake, we saw a group of loons. Everyone spontaneously quit paddling and sat quietly while the loons paddled towards us, chattering to themselves, and then away. It was a magical moment. Linda W., Apostle Islands
The great staff and well-organized preparations gave us the courage to try getting outdoors with our pre-schooler kids. You increased our confidence and we will definitely do it again. Wilderness Inquiry made a real family vacation possible for us! Peter L., Itasca Family
It was wonderful to have such a diverse set of campers. The canoes were a hodge podge of skin colors, countries, ages, and abilities. But everyone bonded over fun challenges like tent assembly and campfire building. It made us want to find that kind of diversity in our own lives. Itasca Family
I wanted to tell you about the wonderful experience Diana, Alex and I had on your most recent Apostle Islands family trip. Your new camp is terrific, its design and and camping accommodations are all very well thought out. I also wanted to say that your staff were expectional and represented WI very, very well. Lauren, Liz, and Gunnar handled our group, adults and kids alike, with just the right touch throughout. And then there's Lake Superior...we were able to paddle to the sea caves and the shipwrecks. What a wild experience. Nothing quite like it.
Jerry G., Apostle Island Family
WI's land is beautiful and well maintained. Beautiful location, and the camping sites were superior (pardon the pun). It's the "Hilton" of camping. I really didn't feel like I was camping. Good pace for children, guides were AWESOME. Nicole, C., Apostle
My daughter ate a thimbleberry after another person in our group said they are safe to eat. It is memorable because the person who told us about this great berry has communication difficulties and it was hard for her to talk, but she is so worth listening to because she knows so much. Plus my daughter's face just lit up with delight at the unexpected, tangy sweet taste of the thimbleberry. I think my daughter will always remember both the berry and the woman who told us about it; I know I will. Elizabeth C.
WI trip leaders are very, very good with kids. Mary F. Yellowstone Family Adventure
Because I am blind I make audio photos for myself. The horses were so amazing – healthy, happy and each with a character still intact. The care and respect Dave gave them was obvious. I finally got a good recording on my digital recorder of those galloping creatures returning to camp after a night of freedom. I could hear their hooves rumbling rhythmically as they came closer. They were coming directly towards me. I reminded myself that horses (almost always) do not run people over as they split in two groups to go around me. They were less than a yard away! Shirley M., Colorado Horsepack
Being on horseback on the continental divide was breathtaking. It was an experience well worth every penny for the kids and myself. Mishele C., Colorado Horsepack
BWCA Canoe Trip
I remember portaging one of the canoes. The trip leader (Gunner)encouraged me, if I was comfortable with it, to try portaging a canoe and I'm glad he did. Overall the entire trip was a wonderful experience with everyone working cooperatively as a team to help each other set up our camp each day, prepare meals, encourage & support each other's efforts paddling & completing the portages, and having fun getting to know everyone. Sarah C., BWCA 5-day canoe
Getting to know local Kenyans and getting off the touristy path was a great experience. Spending an extended period with the Maasai were some of the more memorable experiences, in large part because they allowed us to feel a bit more socially immersed in the place we were. Mickey K., Kenya
We had seen all the animals I had dreamed of seeing except the male lion. We were in Masai Mara, our final game drive, and had only 1/2 hour to go before having to be out of the park. With such a short time to go, I was resolved that I wouldn't see the male lion and felt that my trip was complete anyway. Then a mad dash through the dirt roads, guinea fowl and wart hogs getting out of the way. We approached a large red mound of earth, and atop it was draped a young male lion. We was straight out the The Lion King. My love of cats, and missing my 10 cats at home, I was actually moved to tears. And believe me, I don't cry easily. You could cut my arm off and I wouldn't cry. But that lion. And then, we drove behind the mound, and 3 more bachelor boys were lounging around. What a great experience!!!! John E., Kenya Safari
We saw up close hump back and pilot whales, sailfish flying in the air, green sea turtles and a huge fish ball being attacked by hundreds of sea birds and thousands of spinner dolphins. No nature program on TV will ever compare with that sight. Susan W., Costa Rica
This was one of the greatest experiences of my life!! Dan T., Costa Rica
I accomplished much more than I set out to do. I had never cc skiied, snowshoed, jumped in a hole in the ice or mushed a dog sled - it was all wonderful. I came home empowered!
Kim A., BWCA winter adventure
Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation Names New Director
October 26, 2009
I was so excited to hear that our friend Kevin Webb is now the Executive Director of the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation that I had to post here...
Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation names new Director
posted October 26, 2009
The Board of Directors of the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF) is pleased to announce the appointment of Kevin R. Webb to the position of Director. Webb is responsible for guiding and implementing grant programs and company volunteer activities focused on MEAF's mission of helping young people with disabilities maximize their potential and participation in society.
Webb comes to the position after serving four years as the Foundation's Program Officer. Previously he worked in the field of international educational exchange, including eight years as Executive Director of a nonprofit in Columbus, Ohio and three years teaching college courses on International Business and Global Cultures. Webb holds a BA in International Studies and MA in Public Administration from The Ohio State University.
Webb succeeds Rayna Aylward, who helped found MEAF and served as its Executive Director for 19 years. Aylward recently resigned from MEAF to take a Presidential appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of Education.
Established in 1991 by the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation of Japan and its US subsidiaries, MEAF has made nearly $10 million in grants to help organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Girl Scouts of the USA more fully include youth with disabilities. The Foundation also supports Mitsubishi Electric employee volunteers, who have provided more than 25,000 hours of service to date in the communities where they live and work.
2009 Season Wrap-up
October 10, 2009
Our 2009 program season is almost over—we have two more day trips on the Mississippi River, then a couple of sailing trips in the Channel Islands.
Last January, when the recession was all that people talked about, we were concerned that we would have a slow year. Boy, were we wrong! This year has turned out to be our busiest ever. I attribute this success to our new Apostle Islands Base, the UWCA program on the Mississippi River, and the fact that WI trips in general deliver great value.
Of course, fall means fundraising—it's time for us to raise about half of our budget so we can continue to provide scholarships, program supports, and other things to keep WI as financially accessible as possible. We work really hard to do that as we strongly believe financial issues are usually the biggest barriers to access.
But before we go there, I just want to say thanks to everyone who helped make 2009 a VERY successful year. Our trail staff, interns, full-time staff, volunteers and board members all pulled together to make this a success. It's a great team of people.
Olympic National Park is AWESOME!
September 18, 2009
Last week I had the pleasure of leading a trip to Olympic National Park with Bill Simpson. It was sort of strange to think that we've been doing trips together for over 35 years—Bill first took me as a trip assistant to the BWCA when I was 17. It was really a cool trip.
Olympic National Park is special for several reasons, but one big one is that it spans several diverse eco-systems in the space of about 40 miles. Starting with the incredibly rugged alpine ecosystem of Mt. Olympus, descending into the Hoh Rainforest, and rolling up to the United State's longest remaining undisturbed coast on the Pacific Ocean.
As soon as you see Lake Crescent Lodge you will know that this place is magical. Two minutes away from the lodge you are walking through old growth Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedars and Hemlock—towering trees that have been growing since before Columbus discovered America. Olympic National Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and though it is not as well known as some of its National Park cousins, it is easy to see why.
I loved hiking in the Hoh rainforest, but my personal favorite was the hike from Lake Ozette to the Pacific. I've always loved walking along the ocean and this is a pristine stretch. Seals, birds, otters and much more live there, and they are abundant—at least they seemed so to me.
If you go to this trip on our website in a week or so you will see my photos of our trip. One thing I was reminded of is that taking photos of HUGE trees is tough since there is nothing available to give one a perspective of their size. But let me tell you, the trees are impressive. You will love this trip!
August 18, 2009
At the end of July I had the pleasure of doing the Wabakimi trip with my friend Paul Schurke, our boys Peter and Martin, and two wonderful families, the Nelson and the Schmoker clans. It was a great experience, and as usual, we formed our own tribal unit out there.
We drove 3-4 hours north of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and started with our friends at Wabakimi Outfitters, Bruce and Margaret Hyer (and Brenda and Burt). I had not done a canoe trip like that in quite a while, so I as a touch apprehensive. But, like riding a bike, it all came back as soon as I unloaded the canoe from the trailer.
The landscape was nothing short of fantastic--pristine boreal wilderness on a scale that is hard to imagine. Wabakimi is a 5,000,000 acre park, that's 5 times the size of Minnesota's BWCA. It's also very lightly visited. We did see one other group in the Walleye Kitchen on the Caribou River, but that was it.
Caribou Lake was our start, and we went through Smoothrock Lake to the Boiling Sands River. From there, we hopped across lakes with names like Mastodon and Kanaskas and dropped down into the Kopka River Gorge. Stunning, and rugged. Campsites were abundant, and natural beauty everywhere.
The walleye fishing was also out of this world--we had several great walleye meals, including Peter's spicy walleye and my dreamed up red curry walleye. I caught a 7-lb fish, but only Bill Schmoker, my paddle partner, saw it as we let it go. Bill will forever be my witness!
We had four wonderful girls on our trip, Katie, Maggie, Abby and Lucy. They were 10-11 years old, and they were a delight! It did rain quite a bit, and there were some bugs--and long portages. On the longest portage I went back at the end to find Katie walking the trail through big black spruce trees. I half expected a whimper but instead, she was singing the Phantom of the Opera at the top of her lungs. It was really fun to travel with them, even Paul was impressed.
Speaking of Paul, as you may know, he helped to start WI with me 30 years ago. The old trapper still has the magic, and it was fun to do the trip with him. I am looking forward to more.
I am writing this from Seattle, and we are about to head out to do the WI Olympic National Park with Bill Simpson, another old trapper and great friend (I met Bill when I was 16, and it is his tripping style that WI emulates to this day). Can't wait!!