The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 18, 2014

Kids learn to paddle voyageur canoes on Madison Lake

Hearing-impaired youth canoe at Bray Park

There was a bit of irony in the children and teens stepping gingerly across plastic stools to avoid getting their feet wet while boarding their canoes.

The pouring rain earlier this week at Bray Park near Madison Lake was getting their faces, arms and legs good and wet — basically every body inch not covered by plastic green ponchos. But then again, feet tend to take the longest to dry.

“It’s only 6 inches of water, but I do not want to fall in,” a girl said before taking the hand of a Wilderness Inquiry leader whose own feet, by the way, were fully immersed in Madison Lake. “I don’t want to get my shoes wet.”

Headquartered in Minneapolis, Wilderness Inquiry’s mission is to connect people of all backgrounds to the outdoors through various trips and adventures, said Suzanne Schefcik, a trip leader. One of the organization’s activities is the “Canoemobile,” a fleet of six 24-foot, hand-built, wooden Voyageur canoes they bring to lakes and rivers to connect kids to nature.

This year the Canoemobile is touring 20 cities across the country to serve more than 5,000 children’s “nature deficit disorders.” During the program’s stop at Bray Park, team leaders worked with deaf and hard-of-hearing youth from various southern Minnesota schools.

The kids got to paddle the canoes, they hiked with binoculars and compasses to look for wildlife, and they used seine netting to drag the lake and look for various life forms and objects.

“The mission is really to make the outdoors more accessible,” Schefcik said, pouring water and sand from her galoshes.

One of Schefcik’s favorite memories is of a Wilderness Inquiry trip to Glacier National Park. A girl was on the trip who had never hiked or camped before, and she was miserable from the start.

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