Wilderness Inquiry has worked closely with the USDA Forest Service for many years, providing opportunities for youth and families to connect to public lands and wilderness areas through Canoemobile and extended trips.
In 2021, we began a new 3-year agreement with the Forest Service – Urban Connections program, with a goal to expand Canoemobile and implement our Pyramid of Engagement in communities across the Forest Service’s Region 9 — extending from Minnesota to Maine. Through this cooperative agreement Canoemobile will visit communities including Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and the Twin Cities, facilitating paddling and educational programming that connects to near nature while taking groups of youth to local National Forests and wilderness areas, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area.
This year, Forest Service staff joined Canoemobile days in Minnesota, Northwest Indiana, and New York City, facilitating activities focused on wilderness ethics, Leave No Trace principles, storytelling connected to nature experiences close to home, and career exploration highlighting pipelines into outdoor jobs. Through this partnership, more than 2,800 youth were directly introduced to near-nature through Canoemobile and we led extended trips for youth to the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters.
Over the next 3 years, this project will promote equity and inclusion in the outdoors while engaging young learners through educational, stewardship, and career pathway programs in National Forests and wilderness areas. Wilderness Inquiry and Forest Service staff will work closely as we seek to create equitable outdoor opportunities for youth while achieving the following impacts:
- Introduce youth to public lands, National Forests, and wilderness areas through experiential outdoor programs.
- Motivate urban youth to explore, enjoy, and support local, state, and federal public lands.
- Reduce the opportunity gap for youth from communities that traditionally face barriers to outdoor participation, including low-income and BIPOC youth and youth with disabilities.
- Teach the value of public lands, environmental ethics, and Leave No Trace principles to the next generation of outdoor stewards.
- Connect youth to educational, recreational, and career opportunities across the outdoor sector.
- Strengthen relationships between youth, citizens, educators, urban leaders, and local and federal partners to boost academic achievement through the educational, social, and emotional benefits of place-based education.
- Engage students from across Region 9 through a progression of outdoor experiences that build confidence, connection, and interest in the outdoors and outdoor career pathways among youth.
As we shared in our proposal to the Forest Service, Wilderness Inquiry envisions a day when every young person has the opportunity to access our public lands, waterways, forests, and wilderness areas; and we engage and invest in youth as the future users, participants, and stewards of our natural resources. We are excited to partner in these efforts with the Forest Service – Urban Connections program over the coming years, as we seek to engage youth from across Region 9 and beyond with our nation’s public lands and wild places.