Monday, March 17, 2014

Canoecopia 2014!

On March 7th and 8th the Wild River Academy team crossed the Mississippi and headed east to Madison, Wisconsin.  Several members of the Paddle Forward Crew accompanied the team on an adventure to Canoecopia!

Canoecopia is the largest paddlesports consumer event in the world, with over 250,000 square feet of kayaks, canoes, Stand Up Paddleboards, outdoor equipment and clothing.

Beyond the paddle gear, Canoecopia hosts organizations and speakers from all over the world to share their knowledge and stories related to paddling.  This past weekend six paddle forward members (Erika, Liz, Nick, Natalie, Anna, and Sarah) presented on Saturday and Sunday about the trip.

The presentation on Saturday was filled with a variety of people who were interested in hearing more about the trip.  Natalie opened up the presentation with a brief introduction to the trip.  It was exciting to remember where we came from and how much we've accomplished since last year.  The rest of the presentation included stories and descriptions of the river to the eager audience.  The highlight of the presentation was sharing stories about the people we met and radical hospitality we experienced on the trip.

Facebook Pic & Quote from the day: "Reminiscing about the Poché family and friends at mile 149 at our Canoecopia presentation"

After our presentations we enjoyed walking around and talking with vendors and other outdoor organizations. Many people were excited to hear about Wild River Academy's programs and give to our Sponsor a Student to Paddle Campaign! We ran into friends at Bending Branches, Teva, Stone Harbor, Granite Gear, Bunjee Dealy Bobs, Slat Grill, Canoe&Kayak, and MTI.  

One of the highlights of the weekend was meeting Jordan and Justin from OAR Northwest.  Jordan will be rowing the Mississippi River this fall with a team of people.  They will be visiting at least three schools in every state along the River from Minnesota all the way to Louisiana!  Beyond the schools they visit, they will be reaching students across the nation through adventure learning.  Justin and his partner facilitate the off water education using many different technology tools to deliver their message.  You can learn more about OAR Northwest or sign up to follow the adventure online.   We're excited to continue conversation and follow the trip!  

Overall the weekend was a huge success and we thank everyone who came out to listen to our presentation!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Board Meeting

Hello All!

Last Monday we held our first board meeting of 2014 at the Department of Natural Resources offices in St. Paul. Joining us was Jarell Skinner-Roy, the High School Program Coordinator at College Possible, who discussed College Possible’s mission of reaching low-income, underserved high school students and providing them with a structured plan so that they can attend and graduate from College. Here’s a bit of information on College Possible and a link to their website:

College Possible is making college admission and success possible for low-income students through an intensive curriculum of coaching and support. College Possible started in 2000 in Minneapolis/St. Paul under the name Admission Possible. College Possible is a national organization with five locations in Milwaukee, Nebraska, Portland, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Students come into the program their junior year in high school starting with ACT preparatory assistance. College Possible serves students with families earning less than $25,000 a year in average income. By utilizing an Americorps model, College Possible is able to provide students with a near peer mentorship structure while providing the Americorps employees with a $12,000 living stipend. College Possible will work with Wild River Academy to provide programs for a Junior to Senior year summer enrichment program. For more information visit

Natalie outlined the three main programs that Wild River Academy focuses on: experiential summer programming, our high school fellowship program, and the fall paddle forward expedition on the Illinois River this fall. Anna then discussed our programming capabilities on the Minnesota, Mississippi, St. Croix and more rivers. We coordinate with local experts in order to bring them out to our students on the river. In this way the students get a chance to learn from expert speakers in a variety of areas relating to the watershed they are experiencing. By bringing students into the environment and directly interacting with all of the material being presented by our speakers the students are able to learn more concretely. We opened up the discussion for suggestions on programming along the Minnesota or St. Croix, those being the two rivers our fellowship students chose for their trips. Ted Suss, who served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1974-1978, is on the board of the Minnesota Valley History and Learning Center and mentioned that the learning center could help us with finding water experts in the Southwestern Minnesota area. At this point, we were able to thank Ted Suss for connecting us with Floyd Palmer of Palmer Bus CO, which is donating a school bus to Wild River Academy this spring. Brad Cobb mentioned that there is an agricultural resource center off of highway 14 in Lamberton, MN which cultivates a remnant prairie and has a bison herd which resides on the land. This center is open to student groups and would be a perfect stop for our high school trips.

In order to work with College Possible, we realized that we cannot charge these students money that they don’t have to go on our canoe trips. We are running a capital campaign to raise $20,000 for sponsorships, specifically to sponsor the College Possible trips and our trip with River’s Edge Academy. Jarell mentioned that we should run our campaign through Give Minnesota which is a hosting site for raising money for non-profits. We are using River’s Edge Academy’s GiveMN capabilities to host our campaign; more information can be found on the homepage of our website, We are anxiously awaiting our individual 501(c)(3) application approval from the IRS in order to create our own GiveMN campaign independent of a fiscal sponsor.

Jay Krienitz, a program coordinator for the MN DNR, highlighted the importance of building a support structure through our board which should consist of mentors and others capable of providing assistance and direction. Jay also mentioned the importance of contacting a Certified Public Accountant which is great because we have been working with Mary Cleary: a CPA who focuses on non-profits. She has been a huge resource in helping us to do something which we have little knowledge of. The DNR has a new Parks and Trails Director in Erika Rivers, being another connection mentioned by Jay.

The importance of building a working board was a huge theme of our meeting and a goal of ours for 2014. Having a working board builds credibility through the combined networks of board members and allows us to bring board members to meetings with potential sponsors for legitimization. Informal boards would allow us to focus on our creative efforts and maintain the agility in our business plan which we cherish as a strength of ours. Contacting funders becomes easier with a working board. Ted Suss goes on to say that there are specific strategies we should employ when speaking with potential funders. Putting together a packet/proposal highlighting our capital campaign and a general financial breakdown describing what the specific amounts donated will go to: food, transportation, a student. David Minges reiterated the importance of including operational costs in our fundraising and mentioned that this is a legitimate strategy and not to shy away from it. Organizing a response in the form of a thank you from our students to our funders quarterly is something that Pat Ryan described as essential. Creating a dedicated database listing our supporters and donors was another excellent suggestion from Pat.

Our interns, Sonja and Paul, introduced themselves to our board and highlighted some of the projects they have been working on. Sonja has been researching how we can get proper insurance. Sonja and Nick visited with Irv Cohen, an insurance broker, to find a good fit for insuring Wild River Academy. Paul designed a brochure for our Paddle Forward Illinois River trip this fall. Paul is taking a leadership role in the organization of the trip this fall. Two of our high school fellowship students, Olivia and Izzi, joined us for the meeting as well. They discussed their roles in the fellowship program. Connecting our fellows with our board was an excellent way for the students to converse with knowledgeable and experienced people who we have found to be great friends and resources.

A huge thank you to everyone who attended our meeting and those who continue to support us in our journey.

-The Wild River Academy Team

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

High School Fellowship Program is under way!

This spring semester, Wild River Academy is leading its first semester of our Fellowship Program, in which high school students learn all of the aspects of planning and leading an educational canoe trip through weekly classes and assignments. They will then have opportunities to practice and enjoy what they learned by helping to lead WRA trips over the summer. Subjects we cover related to the planning phase of trips include how to connect with professionals in a related field, how to create interest in your trip through marketing and social media, and how to ask for sponsorships. We are also going to be hitting the water once it warms up to practice our technical skills such as paddling, cooking over a stove, and portaging. In addition, we will be honing leadership skills, learning about the Mississippi and Minnesota River Valleys, and playing lots of games.

We are very excited not only to get to know these outstanding students, but also to learn with them in our first semester of the program. It is exciting to pass along real-world skills to young folks who are eager to learn them and provide them with opportunities to get their boots muddy and their hands wet while helping to lead canoe trips this summer.

Our Spring 2014 Fellows

Olivia Nofzinger
Hello! My name is Olivia. I’m a high school student from St. Paul, Minnesota. I love all things outdoors: hiking, backpacking, canoeing, etc. I’m delighted to be participating in Wild River Academy’s fellowship program and to be gaining all of the great experience the program has to offer.

Anthony Wright was born and raised in the Twin Cities. He currently attends River’s Edge Academy - a small environmental charter high school- and is scheduled to graduate in the spring. After high school, Anthony plans on attending Vermilion Community College to study fisheries and wildlife management. He hopes to one day become a wildlife biologist. 

Anthony’s love for the natural world is a result of the several environmental experiences he’s had with Outward Bound through his high school. Besides the great outdoors, Anthony’s other passions include: photography, parkour, music, and disc sports.
Anthony went on Wild River Academy’s very first high school canoe trip last summer and he is very excited to have the opportunity of planning a canoe trip for his fellow classmates this summer.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Wild River Academy's 2014 Programs

Hello everyone!

Happy Valentine's Day. I hope that you are radiating LOVE today...and everyday!

The Wild River Academy team has been working hard during the 2014 season to build and execute our three main programs: our High School Leadership Program, Educational Canoe Trips, and Adventure Learning Program. If you haven't been keeping up to date with our moves (we move quickly!) then read below for a description of each of our programs.

High School Leadership Program
This spring we are working with three absolutely amazing high school students based in the Twin Cities. We are piloting our first High School Leadership Program in which students are responsible for planning every aspect of an educational canoe trip on a local river (If you're thinking, what the heck is an educational canoe trip?! Keep reading!). Every Sunday we cover different subjects like marketing, public speaking, learning about your social and natural environment, forms and liability, etc. so that the students can build a diverse skill set that they will utilize for the rest of their lives. Each meeting starts with a guest speaker, a specialist in the weekly subject, to share their experience in the field and to give advice to our students. Then we run exercises and HAVE FUN (we played sardines in the St.Paul Central Library last time) to build relationships as well as awesome skills. Check our website for more information!

Educational Canoe Trips
Over the summer Wild River Academy staff and students explore local watersheds in canoes. We have made some amazing partnerships this year with College Possible, CURE MN, River's Edge Academy, Big City Mountaineers, and our River Ambassador Schools to provide educational canoe trips on the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Our educational canoe trips use the river as a dynamic classroom to learn about the complexities of our local watershed. As groups travel downstream, they engage with farmers, industry specialists, community members, and naturalists to better understand who lives by the river and how they use the land and water. This hands-on learning experience fully immerses students in watershed education.

Paddle Forward Fellowship
Last fall, Wild River Academy led its first Paddle Forward Expedition on the Mississippi River. Eleven Young adults paddled from Bemidji to New Orleans to engage with students all over the country through blogs, discussions questions, pictures and videos. Our River Ambassador Schools learned about America's greatest watershed alongside our expeditioners, even though they were not physically present on the adventure.

Our 2014 Paddle Forward Expedition will be on the Illinois River. We are currently accepting applications from young adults, ages 20 - 25. To apply, send your cover letter and resume to The adventure begins September 2014!

So, there you have it! Our three main programs. We have been working hard for the last two years to build Wild River Academy and we couldn't be more excited about our current direction and momentum. Our next board meeting is March 3 from 6-8:30 PM at the DNR Headquarters in St.Paul. It is open to the public and curious strangers are always welcome.

FUN THINGS: #Partnershipsthatrock
Wild River Academy and River's Edge Academy are sharing a full sized school bus starting this season! We are going to paint it and put our names on it. Fun, right?

Whole Foods has agreed to sponsor all of our food costs for the 2014 season. It's amazing the support you can receive when you simply ask. :D

IMPORTANT THINGS: We are launching our Sponsor a Student to Paddle Campaign in March. We are going to raise $20,000 to offer our educational canoe trips at low or no cost to students who otherwise would not be able to participate. Look out for an email!

Thanks again for the support.
The Wild River Academy Team
Natalie, Nick, and Anna

Monday, February 3, 2014

What does Wild River Academy do when the water is ice?

The cold weather may inhibit paddling opportunities, but the Wild River Academy staff is hard at work. Coming off of our Paddle Forward trip down the Mississippi River, we have a lot of momentum and support and are more excited than ever about the direction the organization is going. There is lots to be done to prepare for our summer canoe trips, and our schedule is also filling up with speaking engagements at outdoor symposiums. We will be heading up to Duluth this weekend to attend and present at the Student Outdoor Educators’ Conference at the University of Minnesota. Natalie will be speaking about her epic Hudson Bay Bound Trip, and members of the Paddle Forward crew will talk about our trip down the Mississippi River. Gatherings of people who are excited about what they do are always energizing, and we are looking forward to sharing what we know and learning from other attendees. Click here to learn more and register for this great gathering!

We are also starting up our High School Fellowship program on February 9! This is an exciting opportunity for high school students to learn all of the component parts of planning their own canoe trips, and they will also participate in a mentorship program with WRA staff. Wild River Academy will teach a new topic to participants once a week, bringing in experts to teach everything from marketing to fundraising to teaching outdoors skills and planning a food menu. Participants may also receive independent study credit from their school! Come summer, students will then have the opportunity to help lead a Wild River Academy trip to solidify and show off all of the skills they develop. Five students are on board already, but we have room for more! Email if you are interested.

Plan ahead! Register for a canoe trip this summer! Paddle, learn about, and discuss the waterway that you travel on. Email if you have questions or want to schedule a group trip that is tailored to your availability and interests. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Women's Weekend: Wildly Wonderful

On July 5 - 7, Wild River Academy led out our first annual Women's Weekend trip on the Minnesota River. Starting at Moonstone Farm on Friday afternoon, the group toured the farm then spent a lazy afternoon swimming at the pond, soaking up the good weather, and enjoying the company of each other and our hosts. On the way back to the kitchen house, we picked some milkweed and kale, and enjoyed milkweed tempura and sauteed kale for dinner. They only ever add a few ingredients to the food at Moonstone, but it is always incredibly delicious. Audrey and Richard shared their experiences living on the farm, and then we wrapped up the evening hanging out around a fire.

On Saturday morning, we met more participants that joined us for the day at Vicksburg County Park. It was a beautiful day, and it was a lot of fun to meet new folks. Some of the paddlers lived in the area, so it was a great opportunity to explore familiar territory from a different perspective. And it was fun for the out-of-towners and the guides to hear new stories about the River.

We bid adieu to our visitors with hugs, and continued on our way. We camped that evening north of Redwood Falls, at a site that is only accessible by canoe. A pre-dinner mini hike revealed a great view of the river. After lentil soup and biscuits, we had an awesome conversation that spanned many topics and provoked lots of thoughts. Multiple generations were represented in the group, and it was a unique opportunity to spend unstructured and relaxed time together and share about our experiences. After some chocolate for dessert (I think everyone who came was prepared with their own supply :D) and a little "Old Maid" to wind down, we called it a night.

The next morning we canoed out of camp like pros and enjoyed our last few hours on the river. Yoga poses made us limber for the car ride home, and then we headed back to the cities. What a trip! It was a delightful, informative, and memorable way to spend a weekend. We can't wait for Women's Weekend 2014!

Here are some testimonials straight from the canoeists!

I participated in Wild River Academy Women's Weekend a few weeks ago as an early birthday gift from my mother-in-law.  We were only able to join the group on one stretch of their trip, a day of canoeing on the Minnesota River between the Delhi area and Redwood Falls, about 12 miles.  I was excited but a bit unsure of my canoeing abilities.  I quickly realized I had nothing to fear as the group paddled one of the most beautiful stretches of river I have been on.  Experienced paddlers teamed up with less experienced to create a stress-free, educational atmosphere.  Along the way we say gorgeous rock formations and many river dwelling birds and wildlife.  I left the group as we reached Redwood Falls wishing I would have signed up for the entire weekend, and leaving behind a new group of friends.

A week later was my actual birthday.  My gift from my family was a shiny red canoe.  The next day my husband, twelve-year-old son, eight-year-old daughter and I canoed the same length of river I had fallen in love with the week before.  I confidently paddled down the river, pointing out things I had seen the last time.  My family fell in love with the trip as quickly as I had.  We are now planning a weekend trip later this summer.  I am so thankful that I went on this weekend hosted by Wild River Academy and hope to join them again in the future.


I had a wonderful time on our canoe trip this July. The paddling was fabulous, but I was especially happy to meet everyone on the trip. The instruction and support that the instructors gave to each paddler, no matter the level of experience, was impressive. They were patient and willing to teach, if that is what someone wanted, without giving too much information.  I learned that I like to paddle in the stern!

I also appreciate the relationships that Wild River Academy has developed along the river. I had thought of the Minnesota River as a polluted river because of agricultural runoff, but did not realize the clean up efforts that are underway. Thanks for changing my perspective. The part of the river that we were on was especially beautiful.  I am also hopeful that campsites will be maintained and improved because of WRA's efforts to bring awareness to this river. (I was amazed that we didn't see any other canoes or kayaks.)

And of course, it was really fun for me to reconnect with Moonstone Farm, and to see that Audrey and Richard are still doing wonderful work as permaculture farmers and land stewards.  It was a short trip, but because of all the different parts of the journey, I really felt like we got away, and got to know each other pretty well. Let's do it again!


Monday, July 8, 2013

Wild Weather Academy: First High School Expedition

Hello everyone!

On June 19, the Wild River Academy staff (Nick, Anna, and myself) took 4 River's Edge Academy students out to paddle the Minnesota River from Montevideo to Mack Lake Park in Renville County. We truly lived adventure by adventure for this trip and learned how vulnerable human beings are when the weather dictates their day!

We picked up the group at River's Edge Academy in the morning and shuttled over to Moonstone Farm in Montevideo, MN where Audrey and Richard graciously welcomed us with a tour of their farm. They are amazing people and knowledgeable mentors to all who strive to be stewards of the land. After a delicious dinner on the farm, we spent time together around the campfire.

The next morning we departed from Prien's Landing. We paddled to Granite Falls where the group portaged around the dam and continued on to Memorial Park to set up camp. That night, around 2 am, the wind picked up and our tent started caving in. We could see the flashes of lightening from inside the tent and hear the oncoming storm. Anna check the weather on her phone and it read, "Gusts up to 90 mph. Large hail. Deadly debris. You are in danger". Well then! We didn't need any more convincing than that. We carefully tore down our tents in the strong wind so that none of our gear flew away and carried our things to a nearby shelter. We called Scott Tedrick, a reporter and supporter of WRA who lives in Granite Falls, to pick us up and take us to safety. By 3 am, the students were asleep, bundled into their sleeping bags on Scott's living room floor. I stayed up for a while watching the lightening through a small window in the basement before drifting off to sleep. Safety first.

In the morning we made breakfast and headed back to Memorial Park to meet the DNR Minnaqua intern, Devon, who was waiting to give our group a fishing lesson. Spirits were high! Everyone caught at least one fish, several people caught two, and we got to examine four different species in the river. Before fishing, Devon taught us all about fish species and migration in the Minnesota and we played a game to see who could match the fish species in their proper groups. We are all co-learners on these trips!

We continued on the river after lunch and paddled to the old Minnesota Falls Dam, now the Minnesota Falls rapid set! I am personally thankful that the dam was removed in February. Now recreating on the river is more enjoyable and I feel at peace knowing that the river is free to meander and the native species are free to migrate once again. Hopefully someday the dam in Granite Falls will get demolished. Then the Minnesota River would provide paddlers with over 300 miles of free flowing water all the way to Fort Snelling State Park! Not to mention all the awesome rapid sets.

We portaged over the rapid set and were in awe of the natural beauty around us. It was a gorgeous, hot day on the water and we were enjoying the scenery and each other's company. We stopped at Kinney Landing to eat lunch where we met a woman who told us that we were under a tornado watch until 10 pm that night. But it was so beautiful out! How could that be? Well, we decided to proceed with caution so we called Scott Tedrick (again) to see if he could take us to Upper Sioux Agency State Park. We didn't want to encounter any severe weather on the water.

Scott picked us up and we started on our way to the park. Then we saw it. The death cloud. It was 5 PM on the longest day of the year, but behind us there was nothing but encroaching darkness. Anna and I were sitting in the back of Tom Cherveny's truck debating whether or not it was even safe to be outside during the tornado watch. Once again, we made the cautious decision. Anna called to the front of the car, "Hey Scott?", and Scott immediately replied, "Yep, yep that's fine!", and turned the car around. Now we were driving straight into the black clouds.

The wind picked up as the rain pelted down. The bungees holding the boat on top of the car snapped off and Anna and I held onto the boat through the back window until Scott pulled over. Nick and I threw the boat into the bushes along the road, knowing that we didn't have time to re-fasten it to the car. The weather worsened to the point where we felt uncomfortable driving. We only had about 10 more miles to go until we reached the safety of Scott's house, but the weather wasn't going to let up. We pulled into the Upper Sioux Community and ran into their Community Center to find a church group from Maryland playing ping pong and eating dinner. They gave us tea and towels to dry off and stay warm.

The storm passed through around 7 PM and Scott said, "You guys want to go to the Granite Falls Rodeo?". Sure, why not?! We had already given up the hope of a rustic canoe trip. It was time to get to know the community, and what better way then going to a small town rodeo? We drove through town and Scott bought us all popcorn from the famous Granite Falls Popcorn Stand. Then we went to the rodeo. Which was stormed out after about 45 minutes, go figure! Once again, we stayed the night at Scott's house in Granite Falls. The kids fell asleep watching the Avengers in 3D. Outdoor skills for the win.

The next morning we had a wonderful paddle from Vicksburg County Park to a campsite by North Redwood Falls. It felt so great to get back out on the river and to camp and cook in the woods! The river was fast and has risen quite a bit since we started our trip. Anna, Nick, and I sterned due to the high waters. That night in camp we had awesome discussions about life and living minimally, like our ancestors did, and really got to know one another better.

The next morning the river had risen at least a foot since the day before, and was still rising. Trees were crashing from the bank into the current and floating down the river. Flash flood conditions were upon us. We cautiously paddled to a boat launch in Franklin to set up camp and re-evaluate.

That night as I was scoping out the campground, the Renville County Sheriff pulled up to chat. After a little chitchat he asked, "Have you guys seen a group of kayakers paddling the river?". I thought for a second and said, "no, no kayakers out. Only ran into the occasional fisherman." The sheriff responded, "Well, their cars are flooded in at the county park just south of here and we have no idea what to do."

County park...south of "Yep, you are looking for us."

He told me that the river was rising an inch an hour and if we wanted to salvage things from our car we would have to do it immediately. I walked back over to Nick and Anna with a smirk on my face to relay the news. We all had a good laugh.

Anna and I grabbed two bags to put our 'valuables' into and hopped into the SUV police car. I sat in the front and Anna took the back, a heavy-duty cage fence in between us. We were so excited to experience riding in a cop car that we almost forgot that our cars might be submerged in the Minnesota River Valley. The sheriff was amused.

It was around 12 am when we turned down the dark street to Mack Lake Park, just north of Fort Ridgely State Park. The dry, gravel road that we had driven down just 5 days before was now host to three feet of water with a current.  Doug, the sheriff, drove as far as he could until the water reached the tires and we got out to examine the situation.

Doug strapped me into a life jacket with more straps than a straight jacket. Once I was undeniably buoyant, he hooked one side of a rope onto the back of my new favorite PFD and the other side onto the front of the SUV and told me to walk forward into the dark water. Awesome.

12:30 am. I walked slowly through the current, my legs sturdy against the pull of the water. My muck boots (should have bought the full body Muck Suit?) filled up with water as I crossed over to where the road re-emerged. I heard something rumbling in the tall grass beside me and anxiously waited for Anna to follow suit. Once we were both across, Anna freed me of my industrial leash and we walked to our cars. Luckily, the water hadn't reached our tires yet. I had to break into my car with a wedge and wire because, of course, I left my keys with Ted Suss, the Official WRA Chauffeur, at the beginning of our trip. When I unlocked my car I looked over at Anna to see her carefully going through her trunk and putting things into the duffel bag. I looked into my car for 'valuables' to take back and didn't see much that needed saving. I popped the trunk to find my full body dog costume sitting there. I knew I had something worth salvaging in my car! I stuffed the costume into my bag and walked over to help Anna. We walked back to the sheriff's car with a bit more ease and journeyed back to the campground. Nick and the sheriff shuttled our canoes to a pump station nearby to store them until we could return. We decided to end our trip early due to the water level.

The next morning two wonderful WRA supporters picked us up and drove us back to the city. We had an amazing, adventurous week with four wonderful teenagers and I wouldn't change any of the decisions made throughout the trip. The WRA staff made safe decisions and the high school team worked hard to overcome challenges and obstacles. We may not have had the outdoor wilderness experience everyone expected, but we came off the river with stories to tell for the rest of our lives. Visit the WRA Facebook for more pictures!

Stay tuned for our Women's Weekend blog! We had great weather, amazing women, and LOTS of bugs.

See you on the river,