Illustration by Cathy Weyerhaeuser
Celebrating 40 Years of Adventure
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Wilderness Inquiry and our most impactful year yet. In 2018, we connected 40,245 people to inclusive outdoor adventures through more than 700 trips and events. We served more than 20,000 people of color, 3,600 people with a disability, and those ranging in age from 1 to 100 years old. Read on for highlights from our 40th year.
Inclusive Outdoor Adventures Change Lives
Since 1978, more than 500,000 people have Shared the Adventure with us. If you are one of those half-million people, you know firsthand the impact of integrated outdoor experiences. As our Founder Greg Lais shared after an early trip, “we’ve discovered that the wilderness is indifferent to human need – no matter your background, race, or religion, the outdoors serves as a common space where people can, and do, come together.” Thank you for supporting our mission to connect people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to each other and the natural world through shared outdoor adventures. To celebrate the milestone, 300 supporters, partners, and friends joined us for our 40th Anniversary Celebration at the Machine Shop in Minneapolis on May 3rd.
Canoemobile Engages Thousands of Youth Coast to Coast
In 2018, more than 33,000 underserved youth experienced nature from the seat of a Voyageur canoe. Canoemobile reached 50 cities nationwide, from the Bronx to San Francisco and Grand Rapids to Atlanta. Thanks to our federal and local partners, these ‘floating classrooms’ support place-based learning and connect young people from all backgrounds to the natural world close to home. These quotes are from kids who participated in Canoemobile:
- An Outdoor Leader asked, “Why are you paddling backwards?” Charlotte, age 10, responded, “Because I don’t want it to end!”
- “I’m facing my fears! It’s my first time on the Anacostia River!” – Preston, age 9
- “The only day that was better than this was the day I was born.” – Sevi, age 9
Wilderness Inquiry Prepares Youth for Employment in the Outdoor Industry
Wilderness Inquiry’s youth employment program prepares underserved youth and urban teens to become the next generation of outdoor industry leaders. In its third year of existence, the Outdoor Career Academy introduced over 1,200 students ages 16 to 19 to employment opportunities and job training in the outdoor industry. Teens participated in hands-on courses, gaining transferable skills and earning credentials in First Aid, CPR, and Leave No Trace ethics.
Abdulmalik Daud, joined Wilderness Inquiry’s Outdoor Career Academy after hearing about the opportunity during an Earth Club meeting at Harding High School in Saint Paul. Abdul’s family came to Minnesota from Nigeria six years ago, and he was excited at the opportunity to try camping and canoeing for the first time. Today, he is President of Earth Club and has worked the past two summers in the Wilderness Inquiry office, leading a trip to Yellowstone for his peers this past summer. In Abdul’s words, “Outdoor Career Academy affected many of the decisions I made about my future. I am using the skills I learned to make my community a better place.”
People With Disabilities Hop in the Boat
This year, 3,600 people with a wide range of physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities joined on adventures close to home and around the globe. Inclusion takes on new meaning when mother nature teaches us that we’re all human, and that we are all interdependent. Your financial contribution allows us to level the playing field by providing adaptive equipment, personal care attendants, sign language interpreters, and other support as needed. This ensures that people of all abilities can enjoy the great outdoors.
Minnesota 6th Graders Learn History from the Bow of a Voyageur Canoe
Thanks to the Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, more than 7,400 youth have participated in place-based education activities that connect to Minnesota’s natural resources and cultural history. These immersive experiences across the state help to preserve Minnesota’s outdoor heritage.
Youth Experience Science-based Learning Close to Home
Last year, we received $1.2 million in funding from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund to connect Minnesota students with their local waterways and promote stewardship through citizen science and water quality monitoring. Through this initiative, more than 16,000 Minnesota youth have experienced Canoemobile’s “floating classroom,” engaging in science-based learning that helps cultivate a conservation ethic. In addition to single-day events, hundreds of youth participated on multi-day trips, deepening their connection to the outdoors and Minnesota’s natural resources.
First Canoemobile Hub Launches in the Windy City
The launch of a Southern Lake Michigan hub in the Chicagoland area will allow us to connect even more youth to their local waterways in Milwaukee, Chicago, Grand Rapids, and surrounding areas. Funding from Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the National Park Service allows a “rig” of six Voyageur canoes to be based at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. With the recent hire of our new National Expansion Director, Kevin O’ Hara, we plan to establish a more significant presence in several communities across the country, deepening partnerships and allowing us to serve more people year-round.
40 Days in the Wilderness
To commemorate 40 years of adventure, Founder Greg Lais was challenged by a colleague to spend 40 days in the wilderness. He eagerly accepted and set off on adventures to Glacier National Park, The Apostle Islands, Utah’s Capitol Reef, New Zealand, and even led Wilderness Inquiry’s first trip to Peru. He is aiming for 60 days next year — you can join him on a 2019 adventure here!
8th Annual Great River Race and Community Celebration
September 15th, 2018 marked the 8th annual Great River Race. Launching from Hidden Falls Regional Park, 29 teams piled into our 24-foot Voyageur canoes ready to paddle a 6-mile loop on the Mississippi River. More than 400 people paddled, volunteered, and participated in our community celebration, raising more than $90,000 to support Canoemobile. Thank you to our presenting sponsor, The McKnight Foundation, and guest presenter, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, for making this year’s Great River Race a huge success!
A Rally at the Capitol for Wilderness Inquiry Day in the State of Minnesota
On May 7th, WI participants and Outdoor Leaders, legislators, and students from Saint Paul’s Harding High School and Minneapolis’ New City School packed the Minnesota State Capitol Rotunda in a rally to highlight the impact of inclusive, integrated outdoor programs. Special thanks to participating legislators (Rep. Karen Clark, Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, Rep. Jim Davnie, Sen. Kari Dziedzic, Sen. Foung Hawj, Sen. John Hoffman, Rep. Diane Loeffler, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Carrie Ruud, and Rep. Dean Urdahl) who addressed the crowd and joined youth-led demonstrations on water-quality and Minnesota history.
Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed May 4th, 2018, as Wilderness Inquiry Day in the State of Minnesota. “Wilderness Inquiry’s vision for the future is that all Minnesotans, regardless of circumstance, have opportunities to access our public lands and experience our rivers, forests, lakes, and parks from Blue Mounds to the tip of the Arrowhead.”
Minnesota Congressional Delegation Honors Wilderness Inquiry’s 40th Anniversary
On October 3rd, the Minnesota Congressional Delegation hosted a celebration at the U.S. Capitol, marking the 40th anniversary of Wilderness Inquiry and four decades of inclusion in the outdoors. More than 200 congressional champions, federal partners, supporters and past participants came together to look back on 40 years of impact — and look ahead on the next 40.
In recognition of the milestone, our 40th anniversary was entered into Congressional Record, an exciting way for us to celebrate all of the partners who make our mission possible.
Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
This fall, Congresswoman Betty McCollum and St. Croix National Scenic Riverway Superintendent Julie Galonska joined students from Saint Paul to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The group paddled the St. Croix, one of the original rivers designated under the federal act co-authored by one of Minnesota’s own, Senator Walter Mondale.
Meet the Next Generation of Voyageur Canoes
We are doubling our fleet to increase our impact! WI designed a new, wider, and more stable Voyageur canoe, which will allow us to expand our fleet and serve more people on the water every year. Production has begun with our partners at Wenonah Canoe — look for the new boats near you in 2019!
Minnesota Youth Experience the Joys of Outdoor Winter Activities
Thanks to funding from Target and Askov Finlayson, over 1,500 underserved youth engaged in outdoor learning experiences this winter and last. By providing warm clothes, outdoor gear, and lessons on how to safely enjoy the outdoors in winter, this partnership helped introduce Minnesota youth to the joys of winter recreation and the excitement of living in the Bold North. Cold is Cool!
Wilderness Inquiry Awarded Charity Navigator’s 4-Star Rating for Eighth Year
For the eighth time and fourth year in a row, Wilderness Inquiry was named a Charity Navigator: Four Star Charity, the highest rating awarded to non-profit organizations. The 4-star rating designates that Wilderness Inquiry is accountable, transparent, and financially healthy.
“Only 15% of the charities we evaluate have received at least 4 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Wilderness Inquiry outperforms most other charities in America,” said Michael Thatcher, President and CEO of Charity Navigator. “This exceptional designation from Charity Navigator sets Wilderness Inquiry apart from its peers and demonstrates to the public its trustworthiness.”
WI in the News
Wilderness Inquiry experiences demonstrate the diversity of ways in which people can enjoy the outdoors. This year, Wilderness Inquiry was spotlighted in the media in ways that highlight the breadth of program impact. Wilderness Inquiry in the press:
- American Lifestyle on The Nature of Inclusivity.
- The Star Tribune highlights Canoemobile in a photographic journey of A Floating Classroom.
- Minnesota Good Age features Greg Lais and life on The Wild Side.
- The Star Tribune on why Autumn is the best time for a trip to the Boundary Waters.
- Canoemobile on the road:
River Semester — College Coursework Via Canoe
15 students, 2 Augsburg College professors, and 2 Wilderness Inquiry staff spent 100 days paddling the Mississippi River from Saint Paul to Memphis. These 100 days saw extreme weather conditions — from tornados in Red Wing, to off-season flooding in St. Louis, to extreme cold temperatures in Cairo — but through it all the students persisted, with smiles. Some of these students had never been camping before, let alone canoeing, but the outdoor experience was just a piece of the larger learning opportunity. While on the river students completed coursework for academic credit on a range of subjects, including stream ecology, the impact of time spent outdoors on the adolescent brain, and even dance.
Leaving a Legacy
There are many ways to Share the Adventure. Over 40 years, trip participants have not only joined us on trail, but they also have left a legacy for others to experience the great outdoors. Tom Lewin, Wilderness Inquiry traveler, donor, and dear friend, recently passed and left behind a trust that will provide annual support for Wilderness Inquiry. He will be deeply missed but always remembered for his love for life, generosity, and commitment to Sharing the Adventure for years to come. In 2018, Tom’s family honored his life with a memorial trip to Northern Light Falls and Ontario with Wilderness Inquiry.
Planned giving provides lasting support that enables Wilderness Inquiry to reach underserved youth and people with disabilities for years to come. Learn more about WI legacy donors by reading our tribute stories.
Thank you for your support!