At a fundraiser that is unlike any other, more than 100 people celebrated the mission of Wilderness Inquiry with a wine and dine on the water. The second annual Big Wine and Cheese Affair featured notable guests, moving stories about Wilderness Inquiry’s impact, and fine dining while participants paddled 24-foot Voyageur canoes on the Mississippi River.
Guests paddled from Hidden Falls Regional Park to Crosby Farm, tucking into the back channels of the Mississippi River along the way. As participants drifted along the wilderness known as Fort Snelling State Park, just minutes from the airport, a sense of energy yet calmness brought the group together. As Great Blue Herons and a bald eagle soared overhead, Beth Dooley pulled alongside the canoes to serve her signature dish—accented with sides that included choice olives and cherry tomatoes.
The vibrant conversation grew silent as guests turned to Executive Director, Greg Lais, who highlighted the partnership between the Minnesota DNR and Wilderness Inquiry and the collective efforts to provide the only urban camping along the Mississippi River in the metro at the Youth Camp of Fort Snelling State Park.
Greg introduced Mayor Chris Coleman, a dear friend, and a hiker, biker, and Great River Racer, who shared his passion for connecting all to the outdoors. Mayor Coleman presented the transformative powers of getting outside and overcoming one’s fears through the story of a Saint Paul youth who joined him on a Wilderness Inquiry Glacier National Park trip.
Several Wilderness Inquiry young adult participants were present during the evening as well, and one, Talon, moved the crowd as he reflected upon the impact of Wilderness Inquiry experiences on his life.
Talon grew up in North Minneapolis, but had no outdoor experiences until he went on a Mississippi River day trip with Wilderness Inquiry in sixth grade. This led to extended trip opportunities and ultimately becoming a guide at Wilderness Inquiry, leading more than 80 trips. Now, as a National Park Service Fellow, he said he owed his outdoor career to Wilderness Inquiry.
The evening closed around a campfire, roasting marshmallows in community with one another at Crosby Farm Regional Park. It was a beautiful evening for a paddle, an important time to reflect on the impact of outdoor experiences, and a gala that brought us all closer to nature—and to each other.
A special thank you to our event hosts: Mayor Chris and Connie Coleman, Mary and Ben Whitney, Ed and Val Spencer, Bill and Cindy Schmoker, and Beth and David Finch, and Gourmet Chef Beth Dooley. Our hosts helped nearly triple attendance at the Big Wine and Cheese Affair this year — ensuring a successful, fun evening with great company. Join us next year as we celebrate Wilderness Inquiry’s 40th Anniversary.