Posted on Apr 06, 2020

EcoEducation: Engaging the Next Generation of Outdoor Stewards

Even though Minnesota didn't rank in the top ten of outdoorsy states, we have some outdoorsy cred thanks to organizations like Wilderness Inquiry whose mission is to connect people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to the natural world and each other through shared outdoor activities.  In a great presentation by WI's Youth Programs Manager, Christine, we were reminded that there are a lot of people who have no connection to natural spaces - even city parks.  This is more true of the youngest generations.  Studies show that today's children spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did when they were young.  People who are not engaged with nature and the outdoors are more likely to see it as less valuable and less important.  
One of Wilderness Inquiry's youth engagement programs is Canoemobile.  Canoemobile engages youth to improve school performance, cultivates a stewardship ethic, and creates pathways to pursue educational and career opportunities in the outdoors.  The first Canoemobile paddle happened on the Mississippi in 2008 and since then paddles have engaged kids in 23 states, 60 cities, and 100+ communities.  For 80% of Canoemobile participants, this is their first outdoor experience.  Wow.  Let that sink in.  It was kind of a shocker for the EcoClub attendees.  Christine emphasized that a "basic" outdoor experience to someone who is familiar with the outdoors can be life altering for someone who is not.  
Another program that Wilderness Inquiry just launched (and luckily is COVID-19 approved) is the online experience called FreshWater Quest.  This quest was designed for use with the classroom, but anyone can use it as a resource.   Learn about the history of Minnesota watersheds.  Conduct a species exploration to identify endangered species in your zip code.  Get some project ideas of what you can do to support Minnesota's fresh water.