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Kids and canoes: ‘No Boundaries’ program introduces youth to wilderness

Aug 18, 2022 09:12AM ● By Laura Durenberger
Photo: Using teamwork to portage at the Itasca County Youth Water Summit (Photo courtesy Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness)

By Greg Seitz - Quetico Superior Wilderness News - August 18, 2022


This year, more than 2,000 Minnesota K-12 students participated in programs about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and many have been heading into the wilderness this summer on canoe trips. The experiences are organized by the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

The “No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters” initiative launched in 2020. Since then, it has steadily grown, especially after restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic were lifted. The program provides important experiences, develops future stewards, and meets educational standards in science, social studies, language arts, and physical education.

School programs can range from topics like the unique wilderness ecosystem and its healthy water quality to outdoor skills and teamwork. Friends educators lead exercises in map reading and navigation, Leave No Trace principles, and teamwork. They also offer field trip-type programs, where the group can share the Boundary Waters at a school’s local park or other outdoor areas.

Boundary Waters canoe trips can be life-changing, and foster lifelong conservation ethics, but they are also difficult for many young people to experience. The Friends started the program after recognizing it wasn’t a lack of interest in wilderness, but a lack of means to get there. The canoe trip program focuses on diverse and underserved young people, who face the biggest challenges to visiting the Boundary Waters.

“Reasons are complex, but barriers range from factors such as the financial means, lack of trusted adults able and willing to lead a trip, lack of skill, fear of the wilderness, among others which prevent young people from exploring this natural gem,” the group says.

Friends educators visit classrooms before students embark on canoe trips, leading instruction and exercises, so they feel confident and ready. “This activity day reinforced the skills and knowledge we want our students to know: map and compass skills, portaging a canoe and the teamwork needed to have a safe and enjoyable canoe trip, and solid canoe paddling etiquette,” said Mary McGrane, Director of Vermilion Country School. Student groups from CLUES – Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio, Saint Peter Claver Catholic School, Barnum Public Schools and others are participating.

The program was launched with a grant from the Environmental Trust Fund, recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.

The Friends’ education director, Alison Nyenhuis, says there is still availability for the programs in the 2022-2023 school year. Teachers and other educators can sign up for the No Boundaries Teacher Network, which gives them access to free classroom resources, or contact [email protected].

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To read this original story and more news, follow this link to the Quetico Superior Wilderness News website.
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