Friday, August 22, 2014

Paddle Forward is back!

           Hi everybody! I am excessively excited to kick off the 2014 Paddle Forward blog (not to mention the trip itself). My name is Mark Emmons, but you can refer to me as Blog Editor-in-Chief! Just kidding. But actually, I’ll be the main blogger during the month-long expedition, though the other five paddlers will also take turns at blog posts.

The purpose of this blog is twofold:
1) like a typical travel blog, I will update you with stories of our discoveries, encounters, triumphs, frustrations, etc. and
2) it will serve as a learning tool for the K-12 students who will be following our trip online. Ooooo, the power of blogging!

If you are reading this, you are wondering what’s going on with the trip! Well, we’re 15 days away from our September 6th launch date, and most preparations are in order. For the past month and a half, the whole crew (6 paddlers and 2 support team members) has been contacting schools, media, river town leaders, and other folks who might be able to help us during our travels. Our goal is to meet with as many people as possible who have some stake in the river. Why, you ask? Because we believe that the best way to get to know the Illinois River is by talking to the people who interact with it daily. Makes sense, right? Our hope is that these interviews will yield all sorts of educational insights for our adventure learning videos, where we’ll make connections between the different nuggets of knowledge that our interviewees give us. If you were following last fall’s Paddle Forward expedition down the Mississippi River, you may know that the paddlers were kept busy filming a documentary and covering a whole lot of miles. This year, the focus will be more strongly on adventure learning (for the sake of the children!) and the key to its success is in meeting interesting people.

Of course, to make our adventure learning efforts meaningful at all, we need students to participate. Thanks to fellow expeditioner/U of MN student/champion of champions, Jess Colbaugh, we already have 43 schools signed up to follow our expedition online! There is still room to register to be a River Ambassador school - more information at On top of that, we’ll be stopping at a number of schools along the way to visit classrooms in person. Another fellow expeditioner, Marissa Madej, is the mastermind behind these visits. I imagine that it will be the most exciting day of class ever! If you are involved in a school along the river that would want us to stop by, contact Marissa at

To kick it all off, the excitement will begin in Chicago. Wild River Academy founder Natalie Warren, who will sadly not be paddling with us on the river, has set up a big shebang for our Chicago sendoff. On September 7th, there will be a mass paddle through the city with local paddling groups, and speakers to follow. If you are in the Chicago area at the time, contact us at to join the fun! If you can’t join us, you can at least experience the glory online through all of our social media platforms coordinated by fellow expeditioner/social media queen, Lee Vue. You can follow us on Google +, Facebook, and Twitter.

That’s all for now. Now we wait. 15 days! 15 days! 15 days!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Introducing our newest Paddle Forward 2014 Member!


My name is Jess and I’m new to the Paddle Forward team! I’m very excited to be involved with Wild River Academy!

Who is Jess? 
I am a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. I'm studying Fisheries and Wildlife with an emphasis in Conservation Biology. I grew up in Isanti, Minnesota—about an hour north of the cities. Growing up, my summers were mostly spent on lakes. I developed a love for anything and everything water and the outdoors.  While at the University I've worked various jobs. I began as a tutor for local schools and after school programs. I left that to work as a research assistant only to realize I really missed teaching and working with children. I decided to combine my passions and am now getting involved in outdoor education. I'm really passionate about sharing the value of nature. I also have eight siblings, am proficient in German, and I'm learning to tap dance. I love sunrises, biking, and playing tennis.

Why did she join Paddle Forward: Illinois River? 

I am very excited for the Paddle Forward trip down the Illinois River in the fall! It’ll be a great experience to explore nature and to see how people interact with the water. I love water systems and a whole month in a canoe sounds like a dream. I also look forward to connecting with students and teachers along the way! It will be fun sharing our experiences through adventure learning.

What will she gain from the trip? 

I am taking a directed study at the U of M to help me develop the K-12 curriculum that classrooms will use as they follow us on the trip. The professors here are so insightful and encouraging! I am lucky to get to take this trip and have it count towards my schooling. Professor Karen Oberhauser will be mentoring me on the project and I’m thrilled for her expert guidance. Overall I hope to do an analysis of the usefulness of adventure learning for K-12 classrooms. I want to see if teachers and students like learning through this type of partnership and to find ways to make it better.

I am so grateful for all of the support and encouragement from my family and friends. Also, the Wild River Academy team is so amazing!

I look forward to the adventures to come and the opportunities to learn!


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

River Talking

Members of Wild River Academy’s Paddle Forward trip have been busy doing presentations about their voyage down the Mississippi River, in addition to gearing up for the summer season. On April 15, Martha and Anna spoke at the River Management Society’s conference, titled “Managing Rivers in Changing Climes.” They had a great time meeting and learning from experts in the field of river management, and were honored to be included in the conference. Peter Hark, son of beloved Larene “Ma” Hark, whom the groups stayed with on day 6 of the Paddle Forward expedition, was in the audience.

The duo also did a presentation at Colorado College, their alma mater in Colorado Springs. They told stories about their adventures, talked about the value of paddling in non-wilderness areas, and detailed how they were able to fund their adventure post college, as graduates are no longer eligible for adventure grants through the institution.

Over the weekend of April 26 and 27th, five of the Paddle Forward crew spoke to a friendly audience at the Midwest Mountaineering expo. The expo is always a fun and exciting event, and Wild River Academy enjoyed tabling throughout the weekend and meeting new folks interested in the organization. It is exciting and heartwarming to see people’s enthusiasm for watershed education.

On May 2 and 3, the WRA crew was in Granite Falls for the River History weekend put on by Clean Up the River Environment (CURE). It is always a delight to connect with our friends and allies in southwestern Minnesota working hard to protect and maintain the Minnesota River valley, and this weekend was no different. The “Don’t Worry, We’ve Got This” event on Friday night was an energizing way for young leaders to connect. On Saturday morning, Nick, Natalie, and Anna led a canoe water safety training. That evening, they were warmly received when they spoke about their travels down the Mississippi River at the CURE annual meeting. WRA was thrilled to be included in the celebration of the hard work that CURE and the greater Granite Falls community is doing to protect and restore the local environment.

There are presentations in our future as well! The WRA crew is looking forward to speaking with students at the School of Environmental Studies on June 11. Natalie will be talking with a group of professors in Madison on Thursday about incorporating adventure learning into the college setting.

Thank you to everyone who has attended our presentations! We look forward to continuing to share our story with others, and hope that you will share your story with us.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Future of Paddle Forward

In fall 2013, Wild River Academy sent eleven young adults down the length of the Mississippi River under the name Paddle Forward. This expedition was originally envisioned as a one-time event. After 70 days of thinking time and conversation on the water, Wild River Academy staff began to envision a new role for Paddle Forward Expeditions under Wild River Academy's umbrella.

Paddle Forward trips do more than just take a few ambitious young adults out to experience urban water trails. Our goal is to implement an adventure learning model to engage students all across the nation in watershed education.

Adventure learning is an educational model that provides students with opportunities to explore real-world issues through authentic learning experiences within collaborative online learning environments, and is anchored in experiential and inquiry-based learning. Teachers can register as a River Ambassador school to follow Paddle Forward expeditions, access watershed curriculum resources, receive trip updates, send paddlers questions and comments in the field, and request the expeditioners to visit specific towns and schools along the route.

Watershed education is what we are all about. Whether we are presenting for a class, sharing our story online during a Paddle Forward Expedition, or leading students down their local river, we strive to deepen our society's understanding of what makes a healthy watershed.
The Mississippi River Watershed

We paddled the Mississippi River. Now, every fall, we are going to paddle the length of its major tributaries. Starting with the Illinois River in 2014. Moving to the Minnesota River in 2015. If you have any connections for us in these areas, please email

This year's expedition has something/someone that last year's trip did not. You'll be hearing from her in our next blog! Just know that we are PUMPED about the future of this program!

With love,
The WRA Team
Nick, Natalie, Liz, Anna

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.