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Bringing the Boundary Waters to Bemidji: Students learn wilderness skills through statewide program

Students at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School took a day off from the books on Tuesday, Oct. 25. Instead, they braved the light snowfall and spent the day outdoors as staff members from Friends of the Boundary Waters brought the Boundary Waters Canoe Area experience to them.

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Education Director Alison Nyenhuis, center, teaches students how to portage a canoe as part of the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — Students at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School took a day off from the books on Tuesday, Oct. 25.

Instead, they braved the light snowfall and spent the day outdoors as staff members from Friends of the Boundary Waters brought the Boundary Waters Canoe Area experience to them.

“Students get to try out maps and compasses, fire building, team exercises and portaging stations," Education and Outreach Intern Ingrid Thyr said. "They rotate between stations — about half an hour each, to give them a taste of what the Boundary Waters area is like.”

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Education and Outreach Intern Ingrid Thyr leads the map and compass station as part of the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

The program, called No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters and educating students about Minnesota’s Northland by traveling to schools all over the state.

The BWCA is a popular place for camping, canoeing and fishing experiences located in northeastern Minnesota within the Superior National Forest. It extends over 150 miles along the border of Minnesota and Canada covering roughly 1.1 million acres and has more than 1,000 lakes with miles of trails and portages connecting them.

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“The Boundary Waters is a super special place in Minnesota, we like to say it's kind of like the Grand Canyon of Minnesota,” Thyr said. “It's definitely a beautiful place and we want to make sure that people know it's there, are able to enjoy it and care about it as we do.”

Thyr led the map and compass station and began by telling students about the sometimes confusing terrain the Boundary Waters can present. Water, shorelines, islands and trails — it can be hard to keep on track — especially if there’s no GPS signal to help navigate.

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Students navigate through the course using compasses as part of the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

For the first half of the station, Thyr helped the students learn how to use a compass. Afterward, they went outside and split up into groups to complete an orienteering course set up in the schoolyard.

Education Coordinator Izzie Smith led the fire-building station. Under a canopy, the 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 — along with practicing Leave No Trace principles in order to minimize their impact on the environment.

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Students learn how to make a fire as part of the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

The last station, team building and portaging, was led by Education Director Alison Nyenhuis. Starting by standing in a circle, the students played a variety of games that involved working together as a team, coming up with their own strategies and getting to know their classmates a little better.

“We're trying to get the groups to work together, communicate with each other and to practice some of those skills that they would use a lot of when they're traveling in the Boundary Waters,” Nyenhuis said. “Our goal is to work with students and prepare them for a Boundary Waters trip if they ever get the opportunity to do so.”

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Alison Nyenhuis leads the team-building and portaging station as part of the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

After the team-building activities, the group made their way over to the canoe on the other side of the yard as Nyenhuis explained some of the unique features of the BWCA, such as portaging canoes. Since there are no motors allowed in the majority of the area, most lakes are only accessible by portaging or carrying your boat and supplies across land on trails to the next lake.

The students practiced helping one another get the canoe on top of their shoulders, most found it was lighter than they anticipated.

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A students carries a canoe on his shoulders as part of the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“We're trying to build these teamwork skills, which are also really applicable in their everyday life,” Nyenhuis added.

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 Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.

For more information on the program or to sign up a school, visit www.friends-bwca.org/outdoor-education.

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A student catches a stuffed animal during a team-building exercise as part of the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Students participate in team-building games as part of the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Education Coordinator Izzie Smith leads the fire-building station as part of the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Students learn how to make a fire as part of the No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters program on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Maggi is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on outdoor and human interest stories. Raised in Aitkin, Minnesota, Maggi is a graduate of Bemidji State University's class of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communication.
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