“It’s a big, wild world,” said Dave Freeman, co-founder of Wilderness Classroom, “and I want you to go out and explore it.”
That was the message the native Minnesotan had for more than 100 elementary school kids from local schools attending an outdoor youth engagement fair at Rawlins Park in Washington, D.C.
Freeman should know. He and wife Amy completed a 100-day, 2,000-mile canoe trip from Ely, Minnesota, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to Washington to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act. They also hoped to raise awareness of the outdoor opportunities available to adults and youth, thanks to the act that set aside 9.1 million acres of wilderness (including the Boundary Water Area) in 1964, and has since added more than 100 million acres.
His was also a message of the legacy that must be passed on in order to ensure wilderness areas, wildlife habitats, national parks and national forest have future advocates to protect them.
“My dad took my sister and I [sic] camping in the Boundary Waters and lots of other wild places when we were young,” Freeman wrote on his website. “Exposing young people to nature is critical, so please get outside and explore a wild place over the holidays and bring a kid or two with you.”
The youth engagement fair was coordinated by Wilderness Inquiry, an international non-profit organization founded in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and whose mission is to connect people of all walks of life to the natural world through outdoor adventures. Wilderness Inquiry also organizes canoe trips specifically designed to expose urban youth to the natural world in environments close to home. The youth fair featured learning stations hosted by the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies.
Though the 50-year anniversary and preservation of wilderness was a point of emphasis, the focus of the day’s festivities was on the future; exposing city kids to the wonders of the wilderness being preserved for future generations. It was clear those present wanted to instill in each child a sense of advocacy, stewardship and, most of all, adventure.
“America’s wilderness legacy is yours because our public lands belong to you,” said attendee, Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. “Get out and explore, enjoy and protect your public lands.”
The centerpiece of the event was the canoe the Freemans traveled in on their journey to Washington. They named the canoe “Sig” after Sigurd F. Olson, an environmentalist and Minnesotan who was a passionate advocate for the protection of wilderness areas. In a show of support, Sig was covered from stem to stern with by thousands signatures from supporters between Minnesota and Washington who support ongoing efforts to protect the wilderness against future threats.