Youth from across the Columbia Basin have a unique opportunity this summer to be immersed in the mighty Columbia River.

Wildsight’s Columbia River Field School (CRFS) is a canoe trip and learning adventure for students aged 15-18. Students paddle key sections of the Canadian side of the Columbia River and camp along its riverbanks in a learning environment unlike any other.

“The field school provides an opportunity for learning that is real, lived and felt,” says Monica Nissen, Wildight’s Education Manager. “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.”

Spanning 15 days, field school participants meet with a diverse group of guest speakers including government officials, Indigenous knowledge holders, scientists, artists, and adventurers. They earn Lakewater Level 1 and Canoe Tripping Paddler certifications, and gain important outdoor skills like reading maps, packing, cooking, setting up camp and leave no trace practices. But most importantly, students gain an appreciation for this watershed and the intricate role we all play in its protection.

“Throughout the trip, I built a strong connection to the Columbia River. Paddling several different sections (free flowing and dammed) really helped me to form a well-rounded understanding of why the Columbia is such an important river,” says past participant Ali Giesbrecht. “I had the privilege to witness its beauty in many forms, such as the wildlife and aquatic life, its geography, human connections with the watershed, and special locations like the headwaters and its confluence with the Kootenay River.”

Raising a generation of leaders who understand and appreciate the Columbia River, including the Columbia River Treaty and the effect this river has on communities across the watershed are exactly what program leaders seek to achieve.

“Lasting improvement to our relationship with the environment requires more than a surface-level appreciation. For long-term change, we need to cultivate champions who have a deep knowledge and passion, and can use it to inspire wider interest in issues that affect our communities,” says Graeme Lee Rowlands, program coordinator. “The CRFS makes these topics come alive in the landscape of the basin and in the lives of participants in a way that no other program does.”

Past participants, hailing from 16 communities across the basin, have gone on to speak at conferences, publish original writing, participate in youth summits, and become local leaders in their own communities. Many alumni are now pursuing careers in environmental science/studies, outdoor education and other conservation-related fields.

This year’s CRFS runs June 30-July 14. Applications are due by May 15th, but will be reviewed on a rolling basis so apply soon! For more information and to apply, visit wildsight.ca/fieldschool.

Wildsight