Program Overview

The Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures (UWCA) program strives to bring together the community through outdoor experiences. UWCA works with partners across Minnesota to provide outdoor experiential learning opportunities for diverse youth. UWCA fosters the next generation of environmental stewards while emphasizing growth in academics and social-emotional health.


To engage every child and family in Minnesota with the array of public lands across the state through place-based learning and outdoor recreation opportunities.


Minnesota is an “outdoor” state, and we intend to pass that legacy on to future generations.The Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventure’s mission is to meaningfully engage audiences with public lands to:

  • Engage thousands of underserved Minnesota youth.
  • Increase academic achievement through place-based learning.
  • Connect youth to educational and career opportunities across the outdoor sector.
  • Offer resources, curriculum support, and professional development opportunities for teachers.
  • Inspire the next generation to enjoy, explore, and protect parks and public lands.
  • Engage youth, their families, and communities in active, healthy, outdoor lifestyles.

Pyramid of Engagement

A program model that exposes youth to a progression of outdoor experiences, building skills and confidence while achieving academic and community benefits.

Pyramid of Engagement
  1. Introduction: Students participate in introductory, day experiences focused on place-based learning and outdoor recreation. Activities include canoeing, water quality testing, fishing, wildlife identification, hiking, and more.
  2. Engagement: Overnight camping experiences in parks close to home provide hands- on growth and skill building while connecting youth to their communities, schools, parks, and cultural history. Youth set up camp, hike, cook outdoors, build a fire, and sleep in tents.
  3. Immersion: Multi-day experiences in state and national parks farther from home provide enhanced understanding and appreciation of nature’s resources and motivate civic and environmental stewardship.
  4. Internships: Wilderness Inquiry’s Outdoor Careers Council is a growing partnership of over 35 member organizations representing more than 1,500 summer jobs and internships. These opportunities enhance college and career readiness and develop leadership skills.
  5. Education/Employment: Two- and four-year colleges and universities provide scholarship opportunities for students engaged in this program. Youth who progress through this model will be prepared to pursue a career in the outdoor industry.

History & Impact

The UWCA program began in 2008 as a collaboration of Wilderness Inquiry, the National Park Service, and the Mississippi River Fund. Together these organizations created a program to engage urban youth in place-based education and experiential learning. The collaborative effort of UWCA and its partners represents the best principles of Collective Impact. Since 2008, the UWCA has served more than 70,000 youth and families in the state. We are deeply embedded in Twin Cities school districts and continue to expand in Greater Minnesota.

Leadership, Partners, & Support

A broad, engaged consortium of cross-jurisdictional, interagency partners is the lynchpin of the UWCA’s growth and success. Since its inception, the UWCA has garnered support from local and national partners — including community, non-profit, and corporate organizations, municipal and government agencies, and individuals. Every September, many of our partners show their support by paddling in the Great River Race. Our annual report shows comprehensive information on funding sources and expenditures. To stay relevant and engaged in the community, Wilderness Inquiry actively conducts research to evaluate and improve our programming.