All I did was say, ‘Alright, group B over here, group A over here,’ you know, just inviting the kids. And I was like, ‘If you’re in group A, you’re gonna come canoeing first.’ That’s literally all I said, and all the kids just started happy screaming and broke into the run. I can still picture the first little boy. He just went, ‘Yeah!’ And ran full speed at me. He threw his arms around me and all the other children followed suit. And they all just kept piling on and piling on and piling on…That is one of my happiest memories.”
Year after year, community after community, we see very similar stories come out of our trips and adventures. Among our participants and across our teams of highly trained Outdoor Leaders, we consistently hear about the impactful relationships that staff and participants build with each other. In our 2022 Youth Program Impact Report, 98% of participants reported experiencing authentic, positive connections with the Wilderness Inquiry Outdoor Leaders they worked with. Our Outdoor Leaders, the people leading our trips through Canoemobile or to natural places across the country and around the world, really represent where the rubber hits the road for our mission in action. These incredible leaders bring our adventures to life for the thousands of participants who paddle, camp, learn, and explore with us each year.
Cory Dack joined Wilderness Inquiry as an Outdoor Leader in 2008. Since then, she has worked many seasons with our organization, leading a range of trips from Canoemobile to extended international adventures. What keeps her coming back? In her words, “I definitely always keep coming back for the why, and we call it the why. Like, why do we have a program like Canoemobile? It’s to make sure that people who look like me actually have a chance to get on the water. Canoemobile is one of the most consistent things I come back for every spring, every fall. When I come back to Canoemobile, it’s because it’s a thing that I love and it’s doing the most amount of good.” This fall, Cory returned from her 10th National Canoemobile Tour! Each tour is a multi-week journey for Outdoor Leaders traveling coast-to-coast to connect youth and families across the country to nearby nature and their local waterways. She spent her most recent tour in Indiana leading programming at the Dunes Learning Center.
When she is not with Wilderness Inquiry, Cory works with other organizations and outfitters traveling the world. “I work really hard wherever I guide to try to help us have actual bridging of equity gaps, but I feel like Canoemobile is a place that actually does it the best. That actually gets kids out on the water who don’t have access to that otherwise,” she said.
Across her years with Wilderness Inquiry, Cory has served over 35,000 participants in locations all over the United States and internationally. With Canoemobile tours from the East Coast to the West Coast, and everywhere in between, she has experienced rivers and waterways across the country. Cory holds a deep connection to water and the nature around it. “I think it is so incredibly sacred to help someone get in a canoe for the first time. To help someone engage with water in that way for the first time,” she said.
When Cory sterns a canoe, she encourages a minute of silence. Everyone puts their paddles in the boat for a minute, and she encourages the participants to close their eyes and use their other senses, asking them what they hear, smell, and feel. She invites them to touch the water and to view water as something different than what they had always been taught. “Canoemobile takes youth and brings them to this thing that has been a source of fear for some of them their whole lives, and we invite them to create a different relationship with the water…You see how their hearts have started to heal because they’ve started to heal their relationship with water,” she said.
Cory also had a hand in shaping the larger Canoemobile program. She has helped develop educational resources and information to share the impact of the program with new audiences and prospective Outdoor Leaders. These resources are still in use today and are essential in our Canoemobile trainings. Her role in Canoemobile and with Wilderness Inquiry has always come from a place of love for the outdoors and environmental education.
Cory has many hopes for the future. “I feel inspired because the younger generations, the people who are just starting their career, a lot of them come to Wilderness Inquiry with a good mentality already. So I feel like, as I shift into other phases of my life, that I am leaving it in good hands with people of a generation who don’t need to be taught that social justice and environmental justice are one and the same. They already get it,” she said.
No matter where an adventure takes her, Cory shares her deep passion for connection so that so many others can experience the why of adventuring with Wilderness Inquiry. Thanks to Cory and the many Outdoor Leaders who bring our mission to life, Wilderness Inquiry and our Canoemobile program continue to make a difference for tens of thousands of people in communities across the country.