Students connect to the Columbia through learning from the land, making connections, developing a deeper understanding of this place we call home: these are the goals of the Columbia River Field School (CRFS). We believe strongly in this program, and comments like Ayla’s remind us why we work to bring programs like this to life year after year.

CRFS is a summer field school program designed to immerse youth in understanding of the Columbia River watershed and help them build their own relationships with this place. This summer, our flotilla of canoes carried 15 youth down key sections of the Canadian side of the Columbia River, alongside an alumna assistant trip leader and four team leaders. Through field excursions, guest speakers, and an in-depth curriculum, students learn about the Columbia Basin’s history, geography and ecology of the river, Indigenous perspectives, engineering and economics of dams and reservoirs, the ongoing Columbia River Treaty negotiations, Indigenous-led salmon reintroduction and more. Students even earned four school credits from our partners at School District 8 by the end of the 15-day program!

Visiting the places, seeing the history, and listening to experts helps cement the learning deep into student’s minds.

“This was a great experience that I would love to do again,” shares Zxavian Davidson from Fernie. “I didn’t expect to learn and come away with so much. One idea I will
take away is how everything is rooted back into the environment.”

Each summer, we find something magical happens as we bring together a group of teens from diverse backgrounds and different communities (we’ve had students from more than 18 different Basin communities since we launched the program in 2018)! As the youth disengage from social media and their regular lives, as they learn how to camp in a way that’s gentle to the landscape, as they gaze at starry skies and paddle softly through wetlands, they connect on a deeper level to each other, and to the environment around them.

“I’m probably going to look back on this trip as the time I went on a two week canoe trip with a bunch of strangers and ended the trip with 14 new friends and a whole network of people who care about the Columbia River watershed,” shares Nelson participant Millie Perreult.

To complement our annual CRFS trips, we work with teachers to help them connect their own students with this same suite of topics. Wildsight’s Teach the Columbia curriculum, with 11 adaptable and interactive lessons, can be accessed for free online. We also run 3-4 day long canoe-based Teach the Columbia Field Courses (like miniature Columbia River Field Schools) for educators to workshop these lessons while learning from each other and the land at locations across the Columbia Basin.


This year’s Columbia River Field School ran July 9–23. We would like to thank our generous funders for making the CRFS and Teach the Columbia programs possible, including the Arjay R. and Frances F. Miller Foundation, BC Hydro, the Province of B.C. through the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, the Real Estate Foundation of BC, the Recreational Canoe Association of BC, and School District 8.

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