BEMIDJI – The students of the Voyageurs Expeditionary High School took a day off on Tuesday, October 25.
Instead, they braved the light snowfall and spent the day outdoors as Friends of Boundary Waters staff members brought them the Boundary Waters Canoe Area experience.
“Students can try out maps and compasses, fire making, team drills and carry stations,” said Ingrid Thyr, education and outreach intern. “They rotate between stations – about half an hour each, to give them a taste of what the area is like.
The program, called No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting boundary waters and educating students on Minnesota’s Northland by traveling to schools across the state.
The BWCA is a popular place for camping, canoeing, and fishing located in northeast Minnesota in the Superior National Forest. It stretches over 150 miles along the Minnesota and Canada border, covering approximately 1.1 million acres and has over 1,000 lakes with miles of trails and portages connecting them.
“The Boundary Waters is a super special place in Minnesota, we like to say it’s kind of like the Grand Canyon in Minnesota,” Thyr said. “It really is a beautiful place and we want to make sure people know it, can enjoy it and care about it like we do.”
Thyr led the map and compass and began by telling students about the sometimes confusing terrain that boundary waters can present. Water, shorelines, islands and trails – it can be difficult to stay on course – especially if there’s no GPS signal to help you navigate.
During the first half of the station, Thyr helped the students learn to use a compass. Afterwards, they went out and divided into groups to follow an orientation course set up in the schoolyard.
Education Coordinator Izzie Smith ran the fire station. Under a canopy, students sat in a circle for the opportunity to learn outdoor skills. They learned all the components that go into making fire – oxygen, heat and fuel – as well as practice Leave No Trace principles to minimize their impact on the environment.
The last station, team building and portage, was led by director of education, Alison Nyenhuis. Beginning by standing in a circle, students played a variety of games that involved working as a team, finding their own strategies, and getting to know their classmates better.
“We’re trying to get the groups to work together, communicate with each other and practice some of those skills that they would often use when traveling in boundary waters,” Nyenhuis said. “Our goal is to work with the students and prepare them for a trip to boundary waters if they get the chance. »
After the team building activities, the group headed to the canoe across the yard while Nyenhuis explained some of the unique features of the BWCA, such as the portage canoes. Since there are no motors allowed in the majority of the area, most lakes are only accessible by portage or by hauling your boat and supplies across land on trails to the next lake.
The students practiced helping each other put the canoe on their shoulders, most found it to be lighter than they had expected.
“We try to develop these teamwork skills, which are also really applicable in their daily lives,” added Nyenhuis.
Funding for the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program is provided by the Minnesota Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund, as recommended by the Minnesota Legislative-Citizen Resources Commission.
For more information about the program or to register a school, visit www.friends-bwca.org/outdoor-education.