Wilderness Inquiry brings Canoemobile to Milwaukee for free events

It was an almost perfect summer Monday morning at the lake, crisp blue skies and a light breeze to keep temperatures around 70 degrees – a perfect day for paddling, as two canoes circled the lakeshore lagoon State Park.

But the canoes were bigger than your usual two or three seater. Ten paddlers sat in the 24-foot green Wenonahs, among those students and an Escuela Verde teacher, U.S. Forest Service personnel and outdoor entertainers from Wilderness Survey.

The St. Paul, Minn.-based nonprofit brought the canoes to Milwaukee as part of its Canoemobile program, a “floating classroom” that brings a fleet of six of the big canoes to cities. across the country to teach science to children and community members. geography and more.

The program has traveled the country from California to New York for the past 12 years, but this is its first stop in Milwaukee, with events throughout the week offering 500 children and adults a chance to paddle for free on canoes and learn about their local natural environment. the spaces.

For 80% of these children, this will be their first time paddling a canoe or even visiting a stream in their backyard, which is the whole point of the program.

“Our goal is to think about how to remove barriers to access to the outdoors and connect everyone outdoors,” said Willy Tully, director of development at Wilderness Inquiry. “The outdoors has been shown to have a tremendous positive impact on the mental and physical health of everyone in our community, so we really see outdoor engagement as an opportunity to invest in health. and the well-being of people in the communities we serve.”

It was easy to see those benefits on Monday when the kids first played a team-building game of One Fish, Two Fish before going around to learn about safety and canoeing skills, then get in the water. They completed their apprenticeship time with on-site outdoor professionals, including some from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who brought along two animal ambassadors – a fox snake and an ornate box turtle.

Elaine Zautke, Lakeshore State Park official, holds Foxy, 12, the fox snake on Monday.  The snake was part of an animal encounter presented by Wilderness Inquiry's Canoemobile, which aims to connect more children to nature and outdoor activities.
Zuko, an ornate box turtle, was on hand for a meet and greet with students and others at Lakeshore State Park presented by the Wilderness Inquiry's Canoemobile whose goal was to connect more children to nature and outdoor activities air.

It’s better than sitting in a classroom or behind a computer. And even the adults had fun.

“A lot of what we do is joyful,” Tully said, noting that while they focus on education and improving health outcomes, “ultimately we take kids to boats paddling. It’s fun and wonderful to see children laughing and having a really amazing time. And for us, it’s a bit of the magic that happens when a child is able to see themselves in a canoe or in a local park or that sort of thing, and then really being able to be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s fun. I can do that, that can be safe.’ And then they can hopefully bring their families out and build on that experience.”

Tully said canoeing is part of Wilderness Inquiry’s “commitment pyramid” that starts with an introductory program like this and escalates into week-long outdoor adventure trips to places like the boundary waters and the Apostle Islands. In 2019, the nonprofit connected 42,000 people to the outdoors through travel and programs. This year, they hope to reach 22,000 people, including 20,000 thanks to Canoemobile.

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School students at Escuela Verde T Anderson, 14, left, with their backs to the camera, Jadmary Flores, 15, and their science teacher Ediquelson Camara, right, wearing glasses, listen as water safety instructions and canoeing are given to the Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile at Lakeshore State Park on Monday, before heading out in the canoe.

Paddling a canoe on Lake Michigan can be scary for anyone, let alone a kid who’s never been lakeside or maybe can’t even swim. But Canoemobile hopes to break down some of those barriers in a safe environment.

“My thing is, I want kids to fall in love with nature,” said Gina Owens, the Forest Service’s Eastern Region regional forester who attended the event on Monday and paddled through one of the canoes. “We want kids to care about nature. And that means getting outside and having positive, safe experiences.”

Not only does the canoemobile help kids see themselves enjoying the outdoors safely, it also opens their eyes to other possibilities, including possible careers in the outdoors.

“They see us here, and they see ‘Oh, there’s the possibility of, this is a career I could go into,'” Owens said. She recalled her own lightbulb experience when she saw a ranger in a state park and realized it was actually a job.

It’s moments like these that the Canoemobile hopes to create through on-water and educational experiences with partners like the USFS. Partners provide everything from educational stations to financial support (all canoemobile events are free and Wilderness Inquiry pays for school transportation to the event).

T Anderson, 14, takes the lead Monday near Harbor Drive with fellow Escuela Verde schoolmate Jadmary Flores, 15, right, for the Wilderness Inquiry canoemobile.

Typically, the Canoemobile will host school groups during the week, then a community event on Friday where students will hopefully return with their families – further building the scaffolding of the “engagement pyramid” and connecting more of people with the outdoors.

Three events in Milwaukee will be open to the public, the first from 4-7 p.m. Tuesday at Lincoln Park. This event is organized in collaboration with the Friends of Lincoln Park, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, the Great Waters Group of the Sierra Club and Near Nature Milwaukee, an environmental justice and equity initiative.

The canoe will return to Lakeshore State Park from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a beach bonfire and s’mores in partnership with the Friends of Lakeshore State Park.

The final event will take place from 4-7 p.m. Friday in the Jackson Park Pond in conjunction with the Jackson Park Farmers Market.

All abilities are welcome at events, and no experience or equipment is necessary. Wilderness Inquiry provides the canoes, paddles, life jackets and outdoor guides who provide instruction and lead the canoe. Due to the size of the life jackets, the paddling portion of the event is intended for grade four and up. All events are free and no registration is required.

For more information, see desertinquiry.org/programs/canoemobile.

Contact Chelsey Lewis at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @chelseylew and @VoyageMJS and Facebook at Journal Sentinel Voyage.

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