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Posted: March 15, 2020

A chance for local youth to paddle and learn

This July, 16 Columbia Basin youth will paddle the mighty Columbia River for 15 days through Wildsight’s Columbia River Field School—for high school credit.

The Columbia River Field School is an immersive program, but Robert Caldwell from Golden took it a step further by immersing himself IN the river! Photo by Bailey Repp

An amazing opportunity for students ages 15-18, the Field School is more than a canoe trip; it’s a full education course and learning adventure. This four-credit, multidisciplinary Board/Authority Approved Course allows students to navigate the complex social, economic and natural history and landscape of the mighty Columbia River.

Paddling through key sections of the river, students will camp along the riverside and learn important outdoor and canoe skills. Along the way, students will meet with a diverse selection of guest speakers including Indigenous leaders, government officials, scientists, artists, adventurers and more.

“The Field School provides an opportunity for learning that is real, lived and felt—it’s place-based learning at its best,” said Monica Nissen, Wildight’s Education Manager. “The students come away with an understanding of the complexity of the many issues—ecological, social and economic—that are inextricably linked to the Columbia River and this watershed.”

Upon successful completion, students from any school district in the Columbia Basin will earn four high school credits through School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake). In addition, students will earn their Lakewater Level 1 and Canoe Tripping Paddler certifications from the Recreational Canoe Association of B.C., and will earn important outdoor skills like reading maps, packing, outdoor cooking, setting up camp as well as leave no trace practices to minimize impacts on the land.

The Field School experience doesn’t end on the last day of the trip. Wildsight works to help interested alumni stay engaged with Columbia River issues and use their unique perspectives to make a difference for the future of the watershed. In the last year, thirteen alumni have participated in two international conferences about the future of the Columbia Basin and have presented to the Columbia Basin Regional Advisory Committee, a diverse Basin-wide group which advises the province on hydroelectric operations and the Columbia River Treaty.

“There is a real lack of youth involvement in ‘professional’ forums where people are talking about the future of this place,” said Field School Coordinator Graeme Lee Rowlands. “And, in my experience, everyone benefits when there are passionate, knowledgeable young people in the room.”

“The Columbia River is really what unites us all in the region, and there are a lot of complex issues and a fascinating history surrounding it,” said Nissen. “Our goal is to build student leaders who have an intimate understanding of this river. Along with having an incredible canoe-based adventure, participants can expect to be challenged, to make rich memories, and to leave with a deeper understanding of this incredible river that flows through the place they call home.”

Makenna Taylor from Invermere said of the program, “I enjoyed having the curriculum being knowledge and physically-based, so as we learned about the changes and impacts of the river, we also learned how to paddle successfully. Knowledge gained on this trip should have naturally been common knowledge: the fact that I have lived on the Columbia River my whole life and not once did I learn any of this just boggles my mind.”

Aislinn Dressler from Fernie added:  “I will remember this course through my newfound connection to the water and my new paddling skills. I will remember this trip as an amazing experience filled with laughter, learning, and love. I learned how science, art, and human views combine to form a story and that often that story is incomplete without all three.”

Wildsight is closely monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and associated guidance from government health agencies. The health and safety of our students and their families is our top priority. At this time, we expect the Columbia River Field School to proceed as planned this July 16-30. We will continue monitoring the situation and will re-assess closer to the date.

For more information and to apply, visit Wildsight’s website. Applications due by May 5.

Lead image: Students raise their paddles in victory in the Columbia Wetlands near Brisco during the 2019 Columbia River Field School. Photo by Bailey Repp

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