More kids are having a BWCA Summer

Education

Summer is the busy canoe season in the BWCA and it’s a particularly busy season for the education team that heads up our No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program here at the Friends.

So what is the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program?

It’s a way to introduce young people to the magic of our treasured wilderness.

While Minnesota is home to Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, many youths are unaware of what the Boundary Waters is or are unable to visit the area. 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.

Our No Boundaries program aims to change these factors and the nature-deficit experienced by youth by fostering curiosity and engaging youth of all backgrounds in nature across Minnesota, while building leadership skills, confidence, and resilience.

We have multiple, dynamic ways to reach students, including online materials, school visits, local paddle and BWCA skill experiences and wilderness trips. Each of these pieces play an important part in building awareness and confidence in wilderness areas like the Boundary Waters.

Are you a teacher or do you know a teacher who would be interested in bringing the Boundary Waters to their classroom? Contact us for more information now!

BWCA Family Days

Over the past several years, despite the challenges of the pandemic, our program has grown significantly. This year we added an education coordinator to the team and are fortunate to have a summer intern help coordinate and run many educational programs around the state. 

Through partnering with various organizations, we host a number of BWCA Days designed to engage students — and their families — with hands-on activities that introduce many of them to the ways of the canoe. Through meeting students where they are, they can build the confidence and skills that will lead them to a life-changing trip to the Boundary Waters. 

This summer, from rural Minnesota to the metro, our education team was able to connect with a diverse array of students, including kids in the communities surrounding the Boundary Waters.

Here are some highlights:

In Ely, we partnered with Spirit of the Wilderness to put on a wilderness program for students at Vermilion Country School, a charter school in Tower whose mission is focused on environmental education. Students from grades 7-12 practiced teamwork and communication as they rotated through four stations built around BWCA skills such as paddling, orienteering, animal identification and portaging. “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.

A group of students lifting a canoe in a field in Minnesota

At the Itasca County Youth Water Summit, organized by Itasca Waters. The focus activity for the 350 fifth graders who attended the event was about what it takes to complete a portage. They got to work on their teamwork and communication skills with a team-building game, and then put the skills into practice by working together to portage a canoe. Students took turns lifting the boat onto each other’s shoulders, offering breaks and support to the person portaging, and cheering each other on!

In Osseo, north of Minneapolis, we collaborated with Wilderness Inquiry and the Osseo Education Center, a school geared towards young adults who receive special education services, to expand their academic, employment and independent living skills. We were thrilled to work with Wilderness Inquiry to facilitate safe, adaptive paddling experiences for the students, including canoeing, orienteering, animal investigations, and shelter building. We look forward to working with this school to facilitate a BWCA trip for these students in the future. 

Watching young people develop these skills is inspiring. Even more so when you consider that, for many students, these skills will culminate in a trip to the Boundary Waters.

Life-changing trips to the Boundary Waters

One of the capstones of our No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program is a weeklong, cost-free trip to the Boundary Waters.

In 2022, we were able to provide scholarships to 65 students, allowing them to be able to go on such a trip. The first group left in the middle of June, and almost every week afterward, a new group departed for the north.

When asked if others should consider going on such a trip, eleventh grader Lai enthusiastically said, “YES!! The trip is worth it all. Once it’s the last day, you would wish the days were longer.”

These trips were featured on local news stations and the videos and photos these future wilderness stewards shared with us make us hopeful about the future of the BWCA.

Help us reach more kids and expand our No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters Program by donating today!

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