By Chadd Cawson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

There is no better way to learn than in the great outdoors, and Columbia River Field School (CRFS) is back for a third time with just that in mind. The field school will take place from June 30 to July 14. 

“It is open to any Columbia Basin youth who are 15 to 18 years old on the first day of the trip (which will be June 30 of this year),” says Graeme Lee Rowlands, Wildsight Environmental Programs Coordinator. Students of CRFS will travel the Columbia River by canoe over the course of 15 days, while exploring important aspects of the river’s story through lessons in geography, ecology, hydrology, technology, economics, politics, history, and culture.

“We take sixteen students per year,” says Rowlands. “The 32 youth that participated over the 2018 and 2019 programs came from a total of 16 different Columbia Basin communities. All young people, including Indigenous youth, are encouraged to apply!” 

The program hit the water paddling in 2018 and then ran for its second year in 2019.  Due to the uncertainty of the pandemic CRFS had to anchor this program in 2020 and 2021. “We’re thrilled to be re-launching in 2022,” said Rowlands. “With two years of lockdowns and isolation, CRFS is the perfect opportunity for participants to meet other young people from all over the Basin to learn how to canoe, and practice leadership skills while having fun together in our captivating environment.” 

Excerpts from the Columbia River Field School material can be found in the book “A River Captured’’ written by Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, past guest speaker and huge supporter of CRFS. “A River Captured’’ explores the controversial past of the Columbia River Treaty and its impact on Indigenous people and the ecosystems. 

Pearkes shares that she would be running, not walking, to be a student with CRFS if she was a young person today. “I believe this program is so special and important as it puts youth in direct contact with the river and the land beneath our feet,” says Pearkes. 

Pearkes adds that the field school “also incorporates and honours the history, the dramatic changes and the great harm that has been done to it.”

CRFS is made possible by the generous support of funders. However, this support covers only a minor portion of trip costs. It is asked that a participant’s family pay a course fee of a suggested contribution ranging from $800 to $1,000. Financial aid is possible in select cases. 

CRFS will also provide all food, transportation, and specialized gear for the trip. “With this program, we feel we are raising a generation of leaders who understand and appreciate the beauty, complexity, and multifaceted value of the Columbia River watershed, including pressing issues like the Columbia River Treaty,” says Rowlands. “This is essential as for long-term change, we need to cultivate champions who have deep knowledge and passion and can use it to inspire wider interest in issues that affect our human and ecological communities. The Columbia River Field School makes these topics come alive in the landscape of the basin and in the lives of participants in a way that no other program does.”

People today don’t know what the Columbia River was like before it was dammed. “The young people are taken on a journey that operates at two levels, one being the contemporary river and how it looks and feels,” says Pearkes. “The second of what was and the harm and social and ecological impacts it has seen in the past.” Rowlands shares that past participants of CRFS have gone on to speak at conferences and other important events as well as have original writing published. Some have gone on to further explore the watershed, get great careers, and become local leaders in their own communities. “Many alumni are now pursuing education and careers in related fields. In addition to these longer-term accomplishments, it’s also important that the field school is just plain fun,” says Rowlands. “We cultivate a challenging but supportive group environment where young people can enjoy themselves on a grand adventure while growing as individuals and connecting with their peers.” 

The deadline has been extended until May 29 and spots are limited, so interested youth should apply today. Applicants can expect to hear back within one week of submission. Successful applicants and their parents/guardians will be provided with an extensive pre-trip information package. For more information on CRFS visit