It was a big year for Wilderness Inquiry – filled with renewed energy, change, and growth. In 2022, we proudly adventured outdoors with 28,100+ people to 80+ unique parks, rivers, lakes, and green spaces throughout Minnesota, around the country, and across international borders.
As 2022 comes to a close, we are incredibly grateful for a year spent building community, partnerships, and closer connections to the outdoors.
Thank you for joining us this year and for your continued commitment to and passion for Wilderness Inquiry’s mission.
Connecting youth and young adults to one another and nature is at the heart of Wilderness Inquiry’s mission. Repeat, reinforcing, and shared outdoor experiences support young people’s social-emotional, academic, and physical health and well-being – building stronger communities and connections to the outdoors.
Canoemobile Engages Youth Coast-to-Coast
Each year, our popular Canoemobile program hits the road to bring hands-on, environmental learning and engagement to communities around Minnesota and across the country. Canoemobile is an introductory outdoor experience for youth – building confidence and connection as participants experience near-home outdoor adventures for the first time. (For 80% of Canoemobile participants, this is their first organized outdoor experience.) In 2022, Canoemobile reached more than 23,000 youth and families in 50+ communities – from Galt, CA, to the Bronx, NY. And this year, with support from national funders, we expanded the Canoemobile map to include Detroit, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. Canoemobile is made possible by the many partners and fiscal sponsors we work with throughout the year, including the U.S. Forest Service – Urban Connections program, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service. For our Minnesota programs, our focus on history and culture is made possible with funding from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
Outdoor Credit Recovery Expands to Saint Paul
Working in partnership with teachers and educators, the Outdoor Credit Recovery program supports the social-emotional and academic development of high school youth. Designed to enhance the summer school model, and co-led by licensed teachers and Wilderness Inquiry Outdoor Leaders, this program helps students earn academic credit and remain on track to graduate through hands-on, immersive learning in the outdoors. This summer, 62 Saint Paul Public School students earned academic credit while exploring and learning outdoors at historic Fort Snelling, Hidden Fall Regional Park, Crosby Farm Regional Park, and more.
Minnesota Freshwater Quest Explores Local Ecosystems
The Quest is a distance learning tool that individual youth and whole classrooms can use to explore local ecosystems in their own backyards. Youth enter their zip code and open up a world of critters, plants, and natural systems – investigating, learning, and developing projects that can preserve or enhance their local environment. The Quest enhances Wilderness Inquiry in-person programs, providing opportunities for families or teachers to investigate factors impacting their local ecosystems before or after a canoe paddling experience. The Quest is designed in partnership with Captain Planet Foundation and with support from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).
A Return to Shared Travel
Wilderness Inquiry programs are designed to bring people together in the outdoors. Throughout the year, trips to destinations around Minnesota and across the country – including to Glacier National Park, the Boundary Waters, the Florida Everglades, and the Big Island of Hawai’i – continued to offer experiences to help people connect to the outdoors – many for the very first time! We also saw a return to our international destinations, with a trip to New Zealand where our Executive Director Erika Rivers served as a co-leader and trip assistant for an individual who lives with blindness.
Disabled American Veterans Adventure in Olympic National Park
We proudly teamed up with Disabled American Veterans for an extended trip to Olympic National Park with a group of nine Minnesota veterans. Coming together from different branches, different eras, and different places in their lives, the group bonded over hiking in the challenging but beautiful rainforest, relaxing in the natural hot springs, and walking the peaceful beaches along the coast.
Paddling Alongside Blue Star Military Families
Wilderness Inquiry is proud to work alongside Blue Star Families to bring equitable outdoor experiences to military veterans and their families. This year, families in the Chicago and Washington, D.C. metro areas joined us for a day of paddling, rejuvenation, and shared family activities. Time spent outdoors is demonstrated to support the mental, physical, and social-emotional health and well-being of young people, and we are honored to support our nation’s veterans and military families in this way.
Introducing the Wilderness Inquiry Fellowship
We were thrilled to launch the Wilderness Inquiry Fellowship in 2022, an introductory career learning opportunity for people whose identities are underrepresented in the outdoor industry – people who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and/or individuals with disabilities. A cohort of five Fellows joined this 10-week program to gain real-world experience, professional skills, and career development tools, while co-leading Wilderness Inquiry expeditions including extended trips to Yellowstone, the Boundary Waters, Glacier National Park, the Apostle Islands, and Voyageurs National Park.
Affinity Travel Launches
In 2022, we also launched our Affinity Travel program in partnership with local leaders in the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ outdoors communities. Affinity Travel trips provide safe, community-based outdoor experiences that are designed for, and supported by representative Outdoor Leaders. Our pilot year saw five trips to the Boundary Waters engaging 32 participants who belong to the Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing (DDBHH), BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ communities. The Affinity Travel program made a lasting impact in participant’s lives as one participant shared in their post-trip evaluation:
I really didn’t think of myself as someone who would seek to spend time outdoors. This has totally changed after my experiences canoeing and portaging. I am very grateful to the guides who taught their skills with such humility and patience.”
Building Deeper Connections with Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing Communities
Over the past several years, we’ve worked to strengthen and deepen community partnerships to expand our reach and provide meaningful and equitable access to outdoor experiences. This summer, we proudly partnered with members and organizations of the DDBHH community to build accessible outdoor adventures. In July, our first DDBHH Boundary Waters trip ventured north for an extended adventure led by two DDBHH leaders. In August, we hosted our second annual American Sign Language (ASL) Day on the River as families and friends of the DDBHH community paddled together on the Mississippi River and learned about the local landscape. And in September, we welcomed two ASL boats to our Great River Race for the first time in the event’s history.
Return of Partner Paddle
After a two-year hiatus, we enthusiastically welcomed many partners back out on the water for our annual Partner Paddle. Our Executive Director Erika Rivers, Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Director Andy Rodriguez, and Mississippi National River and Recreation Area Superintendent Tucker Blythe spoke at the event about our shared commitment to provide impactful outdoor opportunities for youth and families. It was a great afternoon as we came together on the Mississippi River to show gratitude and build community with new and longtime partners.
12th Annual Great River Race
Often described as “the best day of the year” by members of the Wilderness Inquiry community, our 12th annual Great River Race brought together friends and supporters for a day of purpose, impact, and fun. More than 350 partners, funders, students, volunteers, paddlers, board members, and staff raced and cheered along the mighty Mississippi River in support of closing the outdoor opportunity gap for youth. The day raised more than $135,000 for our Canoemobile and Outdoor Credit Recovery programs and exemplified the power of a shared outdoor opportunity. Special thanks to all of our sponsors of the event, and especially our Presenting Sponsors: Nature Valley, Thomson Reuters, Travelers, and Winnebago Industries.
Thrive Outside Day
With support from the Outdoor Foundation, we hosted the second annual Twin Cities Thrive Outside Day in partnership with more than 13 local organizations. Families and individuals joined us at Boom Island for the opportunity to canoe, mountain bike, hike, and more right in the heart of the Twin Cities. The day celebrated the transformative benefits of time spent in nature as we work in partnership to build equitable access to outdoor spaces and experiences.
The busy summer season kicked off with our annual staff training in the Twin Cities and at our Little Sand Bay base camp in the Apostle Islands. Outdoor Leaders, fellows, and interns learned trail safety, situational leadership, outdoor ethics, and more. New staff had opportunities to build relationships with one another, current staff, and a crew of incredible volunteers who help make Wilderness Inquiry’s mission come to life. And in July, with support from the U.S. Forest Service, we teamed up with Leave No Trace and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge on a workshop for fellows and interns focused on wilderness ethics and outdoor careers.
This past spring, we marked 44 years of connecting people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to the outdoors. More than 250 people joined us for a celebration in honor of Wilderness Inquiry’s Founder, Greg Lais. In conjunction with the celebration, we launched the Founders Endowment to honor Greg and all of those who contributed to building Wilderness Inquiry into the impactful organization it is today. The Founders Endowment invests in programs and community-building activities that support access to equitable outdoor recreational and educational opportunities for people with disabilities, to provide on-going support for the programs that comprise the core of Wilderness Inquiry’s mission. Support for the endowment directly strengthens our ability to provide transformative experiences in nature for future generations.
Building Accessibility in the Apostles Islands
At the heart of Wilderness Inquiry is our mission to create opportunities for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to access, enjoy, and explore the outdoors. Over the years, our Little Sand Bay base camp in the Apostle Islands has been thoughtfully designed and built to be accessible. This fall, we partnered with the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to support the Access for All initiative to further improve and strengthen the park’s accessibility including replacing the steep stairs leading to Meyers Beach with a 520-foot accessible ramp. The Apostle Islands has become one of America’s most accessible national park units – opening the beauty and popularity of the area to everyone.
Thanks to YOU!
Wilderness Inquiry’s mission is made possible thanks to the generous support of so many — the individuals and families, community of volunteers, schools and partners, corporations and foundations, and government collaborators who invest to support the inclusive programs, partnerships, and people that bring our work to life. Check out our most recent Annual Report for a listing of all of our incredible funders, donors, and supporters.