As 2021 comes to a close, we are incredibly grateful for a year spent in community, building closer connections to the outdoors.
This year, the Wilderness Inquiry team continued to embrace creativity and fostered a renewed drive to carry forward our mission and programs. We strengthened and expanded our in-person outdoor experiences, kicked off new partnerships, and continued to provide program opportunities for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to explore the outdoors both across the country and close to home.
In 2021, more than 16,600 people joined us for immersive and life-changing experiences in the outdoors:
- 10,500+ youth and their families paddled, learned, and explored on their local waterways through Canoemobile
- 4,700+ youth and adults participated in live, content-rich, virtual learning and exploration events
- 1,400+ individuals and families joined us for extended, in-person travel experiences
Canoemobile, Back on the Road!
Canoemobile was back in action this fall, bringing Wilderness Inquiry’s popular “floating classroom” to communities across Minnesota, Illinois, Northwest Indiana, New Jersey, and New York. Canoemobile brings the canoe to you, connecting youth, families, and communities to their local waterways by combining environmental education with an introduction to accessible water-based recreation. Through a combination of youth-focused day programs and community paddling events, Wilderness Inquiry introduced 10,508 people to new ways of experiencing, learning, and recreating in the outdoors close to home! Click here to read more about the Canoemobile 2021 Fall Tour. Special thanks to the USDA Forest Service – Urban Connections program, which provided funding and program support to connect youth to experiential learning opportunities in the outdoors across Forest Service Region 9.
I never knew how much I loved nature until I felt the breeze and heard the trees dance in the wind on the canoe. – Elsa, Canoemobile participant
Outdoor Credit Recovery
Wilderness Inquiry’s Outdoor Credit Recovery program brings learning to life for Minneapolis Public Schools students, providing hands-on opportunities in the outdoors that connect to in-school learning. Through place-based, experiential outdoor activities, students learn about science, math, history, English Language Arts, and more, while receiving academic credits that help them stay on track to graduate from high school on time. In 2021, 40+ youth gained academic credit while exploring the outdoors close to home, and across the past 6 years more than 650 Minneapolis youth have earned credits towards graduation! Click here to read more about this transformative program that combines in-school learning with an outdoor education curriculum.
Great MN Schools
This summer we partnered with Great MN Schools to bring classroom learning outdoors. Wilderness Inquiry developed a six-week outdoor learning program that centered on building deeper relationships with nature through science, math, art, social studies, literacy, and outdoor recreation skills. With a curriculum focused on place-based learning and engaging outdoor activities, we were excited to connect young learners to nature in new ways. In addition to engaging in a variety of education topics, students had opportunities to build confidence by leading in their own learning experience. Overall, over 650 youth participated in the program. Click here to read more about this partnership!
Virtual Explorers for Youth
Our popular Mississippi River Explorers youth program returned in March as students and families joined us to explore the history, culture, and ecology of the mighty Mississippi River. We expanded our virtual adventures to include new courses such as Careers in the Outdoors, No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters, Minnesota Freshwater Quest, and a special event book reading of My Mighty Journey by John Coy.
Learn more about our immersive virtual learning opportunities that promote social connection and outdoor exploration close to home.
We enjoyed all of the sessions so much! It was so great to have something to look forward to in addition to the usual school activities we do at home. Your staff did a wonderful job facilitating the sessions, keeping kids engaged, and communicating meaningful educational content. I appreciated how you provided a vision for such a variety of career options related to nature as well. Thank you! – Julie, Mississippi River Explorers parent
Safe Travel for Individuals, Groups, and Families
Across the year, we safely expanded our trip offerings and led supported outdoor adventures to destinations around the country, including to the Boundary Waters, Apostle Islands, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, and more! More than 1,400 people joined us for these extended trips that focus on social integration and facilitate outdoor connections. By breaking down barriers to the natural world for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities, we seek to ensure that everyone belongs in the outdoors.
As one of a group of older women, some of which are very seasoned and comfortable in the outdoors and some who are novices, you were able to guide in a way that respected our knowledge and experience. – Elsa, trip participant
Virtual Adventures for Adults
Our adult virtual adventures provided connection to the outdoors and featured topics that explored wild places around the country. 2021 programs kicked-off with dogsledding from Wilderness Inquiry co-founder Paul Schurke, snowshoe design from artisans Shelley and Eric Larson, and tours of Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks with local National Park Service Rangers. From January to December, adventures included backyard birding, pollinator 101, life cycles of bears, outdoor cooking, history of canoes, canoe manufacturing, and history of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, along with virtual tours to Belize, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Voyageurs and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Parks.
Apostle Islands Expedition with NatGeo
This summer, Wilderness Inquiry led an Expedition with National Geographic and the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation (NPLSF) to kayak to all 21 islands of the Apostle Islands. NatGeo photojournalist David Guttenfelder set out to capture the natural beauty of each island and help share the cultural history of the area with the world. The group included Wilderness Inquiry outdoor leader Greg Strobel, host of the Lake Superior Podcast and NPLSF board member Frida Waara, retired 35-year National Park Service member Neil Howk, and experienced kayak guide and photographer Maddy Marquardt. They were also visited by many Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Park Rangers and other area experts. Keep an eye out for the final National Geographic project in 2022!
Launch of the Inquiry Series
In March, we introduced The Inquiry Series: Exploring Inclusivity, a speaker series featuring leaders in inclusion and diversity from across the country whose incredible work is paving the way to ensure everyone belongs in the outdoors. Our sessions included journalist-filmmaker James Mills, TranSending Founder Erin Parisi, Teacher of the Year Kareem Neal, Disabled Hikers founder Syren Nagakyrie, and Venture Out Project Founder Perry Cohen. Click here to learn more about the series and hear from these leaders working for inclusion in outdoor spaces, activities, and careers.
Accessibility Training with NPS
For many years, Wilderness Inquiry has worked alongside the National Park Service (NPS) to create opportunities for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to access and explore our nation’s public lands. Wilderness Inquiry staff and participants were featured in an accessibility training hosted by the NPS Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program. Learn more about collaborative efforts to ensure public lands are accessible for everyone.
Wilderness Inquiry made me feel like a real person! – Bridget, youth program participant
ASL Day on the River
This past summer, Wilderness Inquiry hosted our first American Sign Language (ASL) Day on the River, where families and friends of the Deaf and DeafBlind communities joined us to adventure and paddle together. Sign language interpreters and support service providers joined over 40 people who are d/Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and DeafBlind to foster community throughout the experience. Click here to read more about this event!
Limitless Adventure with Emily Seltz
“Wilderness Inquiry sees everyone as valuable and capable, they see freedom. Guided but still independent. Nature is so healing and freeing, it’s important for people to be connected to the earth,” says Anne Seltz. Anne’s daughter Emily, who lives with an intellectual disability, has traveled with Wilderness Inquiry since 1998, experiencing over 20 national trips – with hopes to travel internationally in the future. Click here to read about Emily’s story and Wilderness Inquiry’s work to make the outdoors accessible for everyone!
It was really interesting on the last night to hear people describe me as “strong” because I had never really thought of myself that way. – Leila, trip participant
USDA Forest Service – Urban Connections
In 2021, we began a new cooperative agreement with the USDA Forest Service – Urban Connections program, with a goal to expand Canoemobile and implement our Pyramid of Engagement in communities across the Forest Service’s Region 9 — extending from Minnesota to Maine. Through this project, Wilderness Inquiry and the Forest Service will partner to facilitate paddling and educational programming that connects to near nature while taking groups of youth to local National Forests and wilderness areas, connecting thousands of youth to a progression of outdoor experiences that build confidence, connection, and interest in the outdoors and outdoor career pathways.
Thrive Outside Initiative
In 2021, the Twin Cities was selected as an Outdoor Foundation Thrive Outside community — and Wilderness Inquiry was named the facilitating partner for Thrive Outside Twin Cities! This multi-year partnership will support a collective effort to inspire kids and families to connect with nature while aligning and expanding outdoor programs for youth that are equitable, inclusive, and engaging. Learn more about this partnership and national initiative here.
Tickets for Kids
At Wilderness Inquiry, we’re always looking for more ways to connect families and youth to the outdoors. In an effort to expand outdoor access, we partnered with Tickets for Kids — a non-profit that provides free access for low-income and at-risk youth to attend cultural and educational events in their communities. Through partnerships with youth-serving organizations across the U.S., Tickets for Kids strives to make trips to museums, concerts, ball games, science centers, zoos, and more part of every young person’s childhood experience regardless of their background. From virtual programs to family trips in the Boundary Waters, click here to read about ways Wilderness Inquiry and Tickets for Kids partnered this year to connect youth and families to shared outdoor experiences.
I just want to personally say thank you for sending this family on the St. Croix adventure. The three girls were so incredibly excited for this trip that they had their backpacks packed a month early! They LOVED paddling and especially swimming. They got to roast marshmallows over the campfire and make s’mores. They even saw fireflies at one campsite! This was their first camping trip ever, an experience the whole family will remember, and such a fantastic opportunity for a deserving family. – Harmony, Tickets for Kids
At Home at the MN Zoo
Wilderness Inquiry is grateful for a partnership with the Minnesota Zoo that housed our operations in 2021 as we transitioned facility locations. Shady Oak was transformed from a beautiful picnic area into a hub and launch for accessible outdoor adventures. In addition, Wilderness Inquiry and the MN Zoo explored a number of partnership initiatives including coordinating off-site trips together and piloting ‘camping at the zoo’ as part of the MN Zoo’s strategic plan.
The Wilderness Inquiry program is one of a kind. The staff is well trained and conduct themselves with passion and professionalism. We enjoy working with them every year providing local students with a rare opportunity to row the Harlem River, something they will remember the rest of their lives. Kudos to Wilderness Inquiry! – John, Roberto Clemente State Park
Welcome Erika Rivers, and Thank You Kim Keprios & Greg Lais!
Wilderness Inquiry was thrilled to announce the selection of a new executive director this fall, naming Erika Rivers as the next leader to guide our mission and impact. With nearly two decades of experience in the fields of conservation and outdoor recreation, Erika will lead the team to strategically advance Wilderness Inquiry’s mission to connect people to one another and the natural world through outdoor adventure.
After 42 years of building Wilderness Inquiry into a global leader in inclusive outdoor adventure, our founder, Greg Lais, stepped back from day-to-day operations in early 2020. Kim Keprios, who had served as interim executive director, was unanimously selected to serve as executive director in May 2020 to guide the organization through the challenges that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to them both for their unwavering commitment and steadfast leadership!
Welcome New Board Members
This past spring we welcomed four new board members to our leadership team: Mikisha Nation (Executive Director of Teach for America Twin Cities), Laura Forero (CEO of 1204 Consulting, LLC.), Jaime Stilson (Partner at Dorsey & Whitney), and Dotun Obadina (Partner at Jones Day). Learn more about our board members and the important role they play in leading and delivering on Wilderness Inquiry’s mission.
New Logo, New Look
Notice anything new? Wilderness Inquiry’s iconic logo received an update from local designer Dani Loomis. Along with the new logo came a website refresh, making our site more accessible and easier to navigate from the updated homepage.
Added Capacity at Little Sand Bay
11th Annual Great River Race
The Wilderness Inquiry community came together for a day of fun, purpose, impact, and camaraderie at the 11th Annual Great River Race on the Mississippi River. The big race raises funding and builds awareness for Canoemobile and our work to reduce the opportunity gap faced by BIPOC and low-income youth in our headquarters community of the Twin Cities. On September 18th, more than 300 people came together to paddle and support outdoor engagement for youth. Check out event highlights here!
Charity Navigator 4-Star Charity
Wilderness Inquiry was awarded Charity Navigator’s highest 4-star rating for a 7th consecutive year! “This exceptional designation from Charity Navigator sets Wilderness Inquiry apart from its peers and demonstrates to the public its trustworthiness.” We are honored to receive this designation as a sign of our commitment to use the resources we are granted to further our mission and provide the greatest impact that we can for the youth, families, and adults who participate in our programs.
Thanks to Those that Invest in our Mission!
Wilderness Inquiry’s mission is made possible thanks to the generous support of our funders and donors — the individuals and families, corporations and foundations, and government partners who invest to support the inclusive programs, partnerships, and people that bring our work to life. Click to see our full list of partners and check out our most recent Annual Report for a listing of all of our incredible funders, donors, and supporters.
Thanks to our Community of Volunteers!
We can barely count all of the incredible ways that volunteers make our mission go! From providing added support as trip assistants and Personal Care Attendants on trips, to supporting educational stations and paddling opportunities for youth during Canoemobile days, to helping pack-in and pack-out for trips in our warehouse, to providing guidance through our Board and various advisory committees, to making our special events hum (special thanks to our Great River Race volunteers and boat wranglers like Sam, pictured above!), to pro-bono legal and graphic design support, and the list goes on. Thank you to all of our generous volunteers — you bring our mission to life!
We’re grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to facilitate life-changing outdoor experiences for our community — and these experiences are made possible because of you.
Thank you for all you have done to share our passion for this mission. Please enjoy these highlights and we look forward to seeing you on trail in 2022!