While 2020 brought immense challenges that impacted our communities, country, and world, we have also seen resilience, hope, imagination, connection, and changes that will guide us in the years to come. The stories and photos below highlight the power of both human connection and connection to the outdoors — two core tenets of Wilderness Inquiry’s mission that are as important as ever.
Through the uncertainties driven by the impact of COVID-19, our team has embraced adaptability, curiosity, and a new lens on our programs and services. We have strengthened and expanded our program offerings to provide connections for those experiencing social isolation, opportunities for youth and adults alike to explore the outdoors close to home, and small group trips that ensure the outdoors remain accessible for everyone.
Our 2020 impact includes:
- 2,269 individuals joined us for in-person travel experiences
- 3,936 youth and adults participated in live, content-rich, virtual events
- 1,254 unique users benefited from online learning resources since inception in March
Small Group and Family Adventures
Wilderness Inquiry is known for multi-day inclusive adventures around the globe and we provided our typical experiences until March 2020. Beginning again in June, we pivoted to provide outdoor experiences for families and households. With a team of community advisors including a physician, EMT, community health expert, disability advocates, outdoor leaders, and our staff, we developed safety protocols and procedures that aligned with CDC guidelines and minimized risk of illness between participants and our staff. We limited group sizes to 3-6 individuals and traveled to destinations close to home including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, St. Croix National Riverway, and Voyageurs National Park. Through these in-person adventures, we served a total of 2,269 people in 2020.
Overall, we received incredibly positive feedback from our trip experiences and reached individuals of all ages and abilities, including more than 50 individuals with a disability. One family joined us this summer with their two children, including a child who has autism. Their 10-year-old daughter shared that she was happy because she, “felt comfortable for her family to be who they are, and did not feel embarrassed by her brother and was happy to be in a space that was both accepting and encouraging.” One participant, Lynn, had not been able to enjoy the Boundary Waters since her traumatic brain injury. After her trip she shared:
You cannot imagine how happy I am for being able to experience the BWCA again. I cried tears of joy at night. I hope to be able to do it again in the future, but for now, I have a great memory and proved to myself that I could do more than I ever expected! – Lynn, Boundary Waters
Mississippi River Explorers
Our Canoemobile program provides place-based learning opportunities for youth of all backgrounds and abilities. This summer, we launched a virtual experience to achieve similar goals. In partnership with the National Park Service, Mississippi River Explorers investigates the ecology and history of historic places along the river, including Crosby Farm Regional Park, Coldwater Spring, Fort Snelling State Park, and Saint Anthony Falls. Students have a chance to be active, solve mysteries about the river and surrounding areas, and challenge themselves to make connections to the Mississippi River through Zoom-based interactive sessions. Students receive a free Exploration Kit with hands-on materials for activities. Created and launched this July, the Mississippi River Explorers program offered more than 40 events that served an average of more than 70 youth per event! Students virtually interacted with Wilderness Inquiry Outdoor Leaders, National Park Service rangers, United States Forest Service rangers, and Fort Snelling State Park naturalists.
Thank you for the virtual camp experience! My kids loved it and were inspired to check out some different areas of the river each week! It was great fun for the entire family. I really appreciate the effort you put into making it a fun and educational experience from a distance. – Parent
Adult Virtual Adventures
Given the success of Mississippi River Explorers, we adapted the content that was initially designed for school-aged youth to be appropriate for multi-generational audiences. Our Mississippi River Virtual Adventure series launched in October to connect with adults and seniors, including those that are experiencing social isolation due to COVID-19. Geared for the adult participant, this four-part program series explored Mississippi River geology, water quality science, migratory bird species, and a view of local history told from the perspective of women’s voices from the past. Programs featured guest presentations by experts from the National Park Service, Mississippi Park Connection, Wilderness Inquiry staff, and the “Bird Chick.” Each registered participant received an activity kit, including content-inspired crafts. We connected with participants aged 34 to 99!
In addition, we provided activities for virtual community events including Get Outdoors Day and Aquatennial, reaching hundreds of additional individuals in the community. Learn more about our virtual adventures here!
…it was a good reminder for me that I can do more things than I sometimes think I can do, giving me more confidence. And it reminded me of what can be accomplished when working together as a team. – Karen
Online Learning Resources
As school districts turned to e-learning in spring, Wilderness Inquiry quickly shifted to provide online resources for teachers, parents, and students to easily access. These resources focus on outdoor history and culture, environmental science and natural resources, outdoor recreation and stewardship, jobs in the outdoors, and additional partner resources. In addition to written materials, content includes high quality videos touring parks and demonstrating outdoor skills such as knot tying. We also feature “do-it-yourself” activities for youth and families to experience nature in their own backyard. Check out these outdoor activities here!
She has done a few camps online and you did it best. Your format with the breakout sessions worked beautifully. I even took note of your entire process and recommended it to other people putting together online camps. Thanks for your excellence. – Parent
Our 10th Anniversary Great River Race went virtual for 2020! We skipped our usual race down the Mississippi River but we still raced to close the opportunity gap in the great outdoors through a two-part endeavor:
- 10-Day Outdoor Challenge: a race to see who could post the most while getting outside on self- led adventures. Participants posted photos and videos on social media with the hashtag #MNGreatRiverRace of any outdoor activity between Sept. 7 and Sept. 16. We had more than 100 participants post, with the winner posting 372 times!
- Virtual Celebration: a 30-minute livestream celebration on Sept. 17 toasted everyone’s collective achievements with emcee and teller of tales Kevin Kling. We highlighted program successes and how we can continue to provide safe and inclusive outdoor adventures for all.
Learn more at www.greatriverrace.org.
The trip reminded me just how capable everyone is, regardless of ability, to learn new skills and enjoy the outdoors. – Alison
Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge
We are committed to the idea that everyone belongs in the outdoors. In 2020, we signed In Solidarity Project’s Outdoor CEO Pledge as part of our long-term, multifaceted strategic plan for the advancement of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Wilderness Inquiry. Click here to read more about Wilderness Inquiry’s pledge!
As a person with a disability, I am always aware of barriers to inclusion and always devising strategies to experience life, my community, and all of its offerings in a manner similar to my peers but unique to my individuality as well. The WI trips I have participated in have always provided me, through your inclusive mission, a renewed optimism, a greater vision for myself and my life, and a confirmation of the inherent kindness of others. – Janet
Thank You to our Partners!
We are grateful to all of the people and organizations that partner to make our mission possible. Thank you for paddling together with us in 2020! To view our full list of partners, view our partner page here.
In early 2020 we led trips to Peru, Belize, and Tanzania (including our first extension to Zanzibar!) We look forward to returning to the international trail in winter 2022. Check out our updated trip offerings and let’s plan to travel together!
It’s affirming to be with a group of individuals who act with intention — whether in kindness, curiosity, adventure, or teaching. The guides and group added so much atmosphere to the trip outside of the beauty and splendor that the location had to provide. – Michael
Four Star Charity
Wilderness Inquiry was awarded Charity Navigator’s highest 4-star rating for a 6th consecutive year! “This exceptional designation from Charity Navigator sets Wilderness Inquiry apart from its peers and demonstrates to the public its trustworthiness.”
We head into 2021 with gratitude for a strong foundation and the collective engagement and support of our WI community — adventurers, learners, volunteers, donors, partners, and staff across the country and globe.
Please enjoy these highlights and we look forward to connecting with you in the new year!