Urban Wilderness Youth Outdoor Education

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2011 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund
Wilderness Inquiry
Recipient Type
Non-Profit Business/Entity
Start Date
July 2010
End Date
June 2013
Counties Affected
Crow Wing
Mille Lacs
Legal Citation / Subdivision
M.L. 2010, Chp. 362, Sec. 2, Subd. 08d
Appropriation Language

$557,000 is from the trust fund to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with Wilderness Inquiry to provide an outdoor education and recreation program on the Mississippi River. This appropriation is available until June 30, 2013, by which time the project must be completed and final products delivered.

2011 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Proposed Measurable Outcome(s)

Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".

Measurable Outcome(s)

Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".

Project Overview

There has been a sharp decline in participation in outdoor recreation and education amongst urban youth. Some argue that youth who have meaningful outdoor education experiences are more likely to become engaged in environmental stewardship and invested in outdoor resources as adults. Wilderness Inquiry- in partnership with state and federal agencies, non-profits, and local school districts - will use this appropriation to expand an environmental education and recreation program that provides disadvantaged urban youth and families, some of whom have never even been on a boat, with hands-on educational and recreational experiences of the Mississippi River in 24 foot Voyageur canoes. Funds are enabling the program to serve an additional 23,000 urban youth and families in the Twin Cities metro area. Public school groups have day trips and overnight excursions available to them to augment their classroom learning, while other youth and families have access through community events.

The goal of Urban Wilderness Youth Outdoor Education (UWYOE) was to provide accessible, outdoor education and recreation opportunities on the Mississippi River and surrounding watershed for more than 20,000 urban youth over a three-year period. UWYOE was developed in response to the sharp decline in participation in outdoor education and activities such as canoeing, camping, hunting and fishing by urban youth.

UWYOE provided experiential environmental learning experiences on the Mississippi River and surrounding watershed for 24,899 Twin Cities middle and high school students, exceeding our initial goal of 20,000. 80% of the youth served identify as a person of color and 80% are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The majority, 76%, had very little or no prior experience with outdoor activities.

Environmental education experiences were provided through outdoor workshops on local lakes and rivers, guided day trips on the Mississippi River, and overnight camping trips in local parks. National Park Service Rangers and Wilderness Inquiry guides provided natural and cultural history and science lessons as part of each program activity. We developed, refined and implemented classroom activities, provided three teacher trainings for Minneapolis Public Schools summer school staff, and developed a program website. We also purchased four 24' Voyageur canoes to expand our capacity to serve more youth.

A three-year evaluation was conducted by the University of Minnesota's Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI). Major outcomes include:

  • 77% of participants reported an increased interest in science and the environment
  • 87% of teachers agreed that students learned about environmental issues
  • 100% of students said they would like to participate in an outdoor activity like this again

This program has gained national attention as a model for engaging urban youth with the environment and building skills to grow future stewards and managers of our public lands. In the summer of 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Governor Mark Dayton recognized the program as a leader in America's Great Outdoors initiative.

The Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund's investment in UWYOE has resulted in the establishment of a model program for engaging youth in the outdoors, which we now call Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures (UWCA). The UWCA has been recognized by the EPA, the Department of Interior, and Gov. Mark Dayton, among others, as a leader in America's Great Outdoors Initiative. Within the National Park Service and National Forest Service, the UWCA is being held up as an example of how these agencies need to engage in urban communities across the country.

In 2010, Wilderness Inquiry and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area unit of the National Park Service piloted the UWCA concept developed in the Twin Cities to Washington DC, with support from the National Park Service, US Forest Service, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and several DC based nonprofit organizations. Serving 1,000 DC area school kids on the Anacostia River, this effort helping bring together 20 DC area organizations focused on though and/or the Anacostia River. To build on this success, we launched the "Canoemobile" to introduce youth to urban waters in multiple cities, and to help build local coalitions dedicated to providing outdoor opportunities to disadvantaged youth. In 2013, the Canoemobile will serve youth in Milwaukee, Michigan City, Chicago, Louisville, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington DC. Nature Valley has signed on as a sponsor of the Canoemobile.

We held two outcomes briefings (one in 2011 and one in 2013) to present the University of Minnesota's Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) evaluation results. The first was hosted by the Minneapolis Foundation and the second by Mayor Chris Coleman and the Saint Paul Foundation. Each had more than 35 community leaders, funders, and educators present. Information about the project has also been disseminated through the project website.

The UWCA has received coverage on Kare 11 News, the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, and Mpls/St. Paul Magazine.

Project Details
Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
Wilderness Inquiry
Street Address
808 14th Avenue SE
Zip Code
(612) 676-9409