Canoemobile was back in action this fall, bringing the “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 10,494 people this fall to new ways of experiencing, learning, and recreating in the outdoors close to home.
Northwest Indiana & Illinois
Rig 2 headed out east to begin their tour with a brief stop in Illinois, followed by multiple weeks of programs in Northwest Indiana. For returning Canoemobile staff member Courtney Deavours, it was a homecoming of sorts. Originally from the Northwest Indiana region, Deavours hadn’t started paddling her local waterways until into her twenties. Now through Canoemobile she has been able to provide the opportunity for people in her community to start this journey much earlier than she had the chance to. “It’s exciting to program in my hometown…it’s really cool to be able to give kids the opportunity to go on a boat and paddle around and see some pretty stuff in their neighborhood…enjoying learning about the natural world where I’m from.”
For some students these Canoemobile trips meant their first field trip in two years due to the pandemic, and many were ecstatic to be in nature learning with their classmates. As is customary to end every program, each boat captain asks the students to take twenty seconds of silence in order to listen to the sounds of nature and touch the water. At the end of this activity, one student from a 4th grade Portage, Indiana school spoke up and said, “It’s so peaceful and quiet,” another replied, “… and the water is so calm.” As the students headed toward their buses to return to school, one even exclaimed, “This was my favorite field trip!”
The Canoemobile team kept busy over the weekends by offering free canoe rides at three different community events hosted by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. From the northern suburbs of Chicago all the way to the Little Calumet River south of the city, the miles driven and paddle safety talks given were time well spent! Canoemobile finished our season in Illinois by celebrating Halloween at North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor, IL with more canoe rides for kids and families, education about the Lake Michigan watershed, and, of course, paddling songs!
New York & New Jersey
While Rig 2 continued to connect communities in Indiana to the water, Rig 1 made the trek east to New York and New Jersey. The first day of programming featured a visit from the Chancellor of New York City Schools, Meisha Porter, who paddled alongside more than 200 youth from schools in the Bronx neighborhoods surrounding Roberto Clemente State Park. The very next day the staff did something that none had trained for – carried a 24-foot, 250 lb Voyageur canoe nearly a half mile to sit atop the historical High Bridge over the Harlem River. Used as a backdrop for a press conference that celebrated a decade of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, Wilderness Inquiry was thrilled to be part of an event that commemorated the very partnership that brought Canoemobile to New York City over a decade ago.
This tour also included a waterway Canoemobile hasn’t visited since 2015 – the Passaic River in Newark, NJ, known as “peaceful valley” by the indigenous Lenape people. Once known for crabbing, fishing, and hunting, the river fell victim to industry and overconsumption, giving it the more recent title of “most polluted river in the country.” This river was and still is home to thousands. Walking through Riverfront Park, staff immediately noticed how many patrons of Newark frequented a riverfront park – and with good reason. As Canoemobile staff member Aiden Denison pointed out, “Looking left from the boat dock you can see directly into downtown Newark, and to the right, large sandbar beaches which are home to great blue herons, cormorants, and of course the local gull. This juxtaposition of industry and nature is a reminder of how much work has been done and will continue to be done in order to clean the river and make it more accessible to the people of Newark.”
The Minnesota rig started its tour ‘up north’ with a paddle through Voyageurs National Park. Throughout the months of September and October, Canoemobile’s Minnesota rig visited 8 different waterways, from Rochester down south all the way to the North Shore.
During our two weeks in and around Austin and Rochester, MN, Canoemobile worked with 13 different schools thanks to our partners at Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District and Rochester Public Schools. The majority of youth who participate in Canoemobile are paddling a canoe for the first time. This was the story for 10-year-old Austin students Nypiro Olayi and Kyleigh Smith. When asked about her experience, Kyleigh shared, “It’s kinda scary because I don’t know what’s in the water, but I had fun!” Read more about Kyleigh’s field trip from Austin’s Post Bulletin news article featuring the Canoemobile.
Another highlight from our time in the southern part of the state was our work with a new partner for Wilderness Inquiry, Zumbro Education District South Campus. Also known as ZED, this campus supports students with severe emotional and behavioral disorders. During their Canoemobile field trip, students practiced team-building and communication skills while paddling, learned what it takes to build a fire, and snacked on homemade s’mores. After the experience Michelle Frantzen, Dean of Students, shared that ZED is excited to continue working with Wilderness Inquiry and that the most memorable part of the trip was “hearing our students talk about the trip time after time once we returned.”
While traveling back north, Canoemobile received a special visit from Rep. Carrie Ruud at Serpent Lake! This was Canoemobile’s first visit to this waterway northeast of Brainerd, and Outdoor Leaders already look forward to their return to paddle with Crosby students–and to maybe catching a glimpse of the rumored mythical sea serpent, too!
With the help of many partners across the state, including the USDA Forest Service who joined Canoemobile for a week of programming, this rig connected 3,051 Minnesota youth and family members to the natural world right in their backyards. Funding for Canoemobile Minnesota was provided in part by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) and the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
Canoemobile by the numbers
10,494 people served
5,007 miles traveled
25 waterways paddled
24 Voyageur canoes
A Canoemobile tour wouldn’t be complete without the partners that share in the important work of connecting communities to the outdoors – thank you to all of our partners who made this tour possible!
Dunes Learning Center
LaPorte County Soil and Water Conservation District
Trail Creek Watershed
National Park Service
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
New York State Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
Bronx Council for Environmental Quality
Harlem River Working Group
City of Newark
Ironbound Community Corporation
Hudson River Foundation
Mower Soil and Water Conservation District
Olmstead County Parks
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Saint John’s University
Funded in part by USDA Forest Service – Urban Connections
Frances Rodriguez says
The staff at Roberto Clemente State Park look forward to your arrival every year and the joy it brings to so many. Your organization and staff are amazing! Looking forward to 2022 and another year with you, Have a Safe and Happy New Year!
Frances Rodriguez, Park Director
John Doherty says
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!!
Happy, Healthy & Merry to the entire team!!
John Doherty – Special Assistant
Roberto Clemente State Park