A floating classroom

A floating classroom

Photos by Brian Peterson • Intro by Richard Chin

Sometimes they worry that there might be sharks or even monsters in the water. Sometimes they’re so scared that they start to cry. Even in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, many inner-city kids have never been on a boat. For them, a place like the Mississippi River is a frightening, foreign environment. But those kids have been overcoming their fears — and learning something about themselves and the outdoors — thanks to Canoemobile, a program created by Minneapolis-based Wilderness Inquiry. The nonprofit has been introducing kids to urban waterways via 24-foot-long, cedar strip Voyageur canoes for the past 10 years. On the water, instead of seeing sharks, they’re discovering coyotes, herons, eagles and evidence of their own bravery. “They’re gaining mastery of their environment and it’s the environment they were afraid of,” said Wilderness Inquiry founder Greg Lais.

Sometimes they worry that there might be sharks or even monsters in the water. Sometimes they’re so scared that they start to cry. Even in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, many inner-city kids have never been on a boat. For them, a place like the Mississippi River is a frightening, foreign environment. But those kids have been overcoming their fears — and learning something about themselves and the outdoors — thanks to Canoemobile, a program created by Minneapolis-based Wilderness Inquiry. The nonprofit has been introducing kids to urban waterways via 24-foot-long, cedar strip Voyageur canoes for the past 10 years. On the water, instead of seeing sharks, they’re discovering coyotes, herons, eagles and evidence of their own bravery. “They’re gaining mastery of their environment and it’s the environment they were afraid of,” said Wilderness Inquiry founder Greg Lais.

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AP statistics students from Central High School loaded into Voyageur canoes for a morning on the Mississippi River.
Students continued their journey down the Mississippi River.
AP statistics students from Central High School, Annalee Mott (with hat) and Birdy Xiong, collected water samples from the Mississippi River for testing.
Below the buzz of the Franklin Avenue bridge and in the shadow of downtown Minneapolis, a flotilla of large Voyageur canoes full of students paddle down the Mississippi River.
Wilderness Inquiry's Kelly Fischer (left) reviews safety rules with a group of first-time canoe paddlers before a paddle on the Mississippi River as part of the Science Museum's Earth Defenders Camp.
Despite a light rain, Celicia Morris had a smile on her face as they shoved off for a paddle on the Mississippi River. The day trip was part of the Science Museum's Minnesota Earth Defenders Camp.
Despite a light rain, Celicia Morris had a smile on her face as they shoved off for a paddle on the Mississippi River. The day trip was part of the Science Museum's Minnesota Earth Defenders Camp.
Part of the canoe mobile program involves learning the history and ways of Native Americans who first inhabited the land along the Mississippi River near Fort Snelling.
Below the buzz of the Franklin Avenue bridge and in the shadow of downtown Minneapolis, a flotilla of large Voyageur canoes full of students paddle down the Mississippi River.
Life jackets are labeled with a name of different endangered animal.
Below the buzz of the Franklin Avenue bridge and in the shadow of downtown Minneapolis, a flotilla of large Voyageur canoes full of students paddle down the Mississippi River.
Camp games bring the day to a close at a camp spot at Fort Snelling State Park.
Students Walker Ferguson (left), Vivienne Paulson and Talie Hansel (right) joined Wilderness Inquiry's Becky O'Neil (with stencil) stenciling warnings on storm drains in south Minneapolis.
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