Graeme Lee Rowlands at the end of his Columbia River bike tour last summer, at the source of the Columbia River in Canal Flats. Photo by Pat Morrow

Paddling the conversation for Columbia Basin youth

Youth will have chance to experience the Columbia River on 11 day trip this summer

Local youth have a unique opportunity to participate in an 11-day immersive canoe trip and exploration of the Columbia River, from the wetlands almost to the US border this August.

Through the trip, students will learn about the river’s story through ecology, hydrology, geography, economics, politics, history and culture. Graeme Lee Rowlands, the field school coordinator, hopes this will be a great experience for basin youth and a way to help them engage with issues surrounding the Columbia River.

“It’s really key for young people to consider themselves as citizens in the places they live, and to consider how decisions are being made on their behalf that will affect those places for the future of their lives,” says Mr. Rowlands. “To have a strong voice, they need to have a good base of knowledge to speak from, and that’s what we’re trying to build here with the Columbia River Field School.”

Monica Nissen, Wildsight’s education program manager, says the field school is a natural extension of an existing program Wildsight administers for the Columbia Basin Trust called ‘Know Your Watershed’.

“We wanted to build on that. The Columbia River really is what unites us all in the region, and there’s a lot of issues and things to learn about it,” said Ms. Nissen. “We’re trying to help build student leaders who have an understanding of the past, so they can help to shape the future.”

Ms. Nissen says if the students leave the trip with a deeper sense of place and a better connection to the river, she will consider it a success. Through the immersive, lived experience of traveling the river, she trusts they will leave the experience not only more informed, but also more passionate, about the Columbia River Basin.

Mr. Rowlands agrees with the markers of success for this trial program.

“I hope the students take away a sense that everything is connected through the watersheds in which we live, and that it’s really important for them to engage in discussions about how those watersheds should be managed, because ultimately that is what sustains us as communities,” Mr. Rowlands says.

The Field School will explore the Canadian part of the Columbia River by canoe, from the headwaters at Canal Flats, through Columbia Lake and the Columbia Wetlands, the Revelstoke area, Lower Arrow Lake, the confluence with Kootenay at Castlegar and south to the US border. Students will learn canoe skills and safety at the start of the journey, camp out at riverside along the way, and paddle important sections of the mighty Columbia.

The trip costs $250. Bursaries are available. Wildsight opened the application process last week; final submissions are due by Friday, May 25th.

For more information, contact Graeme Lee Rowlands, Columbia River Field School Coordinator, at fieldschool@wildsight.ca or call 250-4279325 ext. 230, or visit https://wildsight.ca/programs/fieldschool/.

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