Dennis Anderson: BWCA is unforgettable, even when the only sound is silence

Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune on

Published in Outdoors

Inclusion can be good and necessary. But sometimes people like to spend time with people like themselves.

Such is the reasoning behind a burgeoning effort by the Twin Cities group Wilderness Inquiry (WI) to sponsor what it calls affinity trips into the outdoors — meaning, in today's example, a recent excursion into the boundary waters by a group whose members are either deaf or hard of hearing.

During the adventure on a lake off the Gunflint Trail, none of the five paddlers, ages 21 to 64, heard a loon's lonesome tremolo or the slap of a beaver's tail against the mirror-like surface of a pristine lake.

But each returned home eager to make a second boundary waters voyage next year.

"We definitely want to do more deaf and hard-of-hearing trips,'' said Ryan Stumbo, 21, a WI trip leader who is hard of hearing. "We feel this is just the beginning. We have a big opportunity in front of us, and we want to take advantage of it.''

Founded in the Twin Cities 44 years ago, WI today has 22 full-time employees and another 40 to 70 part-time trip leaders. The group sponsors outdoors trips of varying lengths to destinations in Minnesota and beyond, including to foreign countries.


Its goal always has been to make the outdoors accessible to everyone, personal circumstances notwithstanding.

"Our goal is to break down barriers, whether physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral, financial or whatever, that keep people from accessing and enjoying the outdoors,'' said WI executive director Erika Rivers.

Rivers joined WI last November after holding various Department of Natural Resources leadership positions, most recently director of the Parks and Trails Division.

WI also sets up trips for families, groups and individuals who simply want to get away and enjoy an outdoor adventure. These are not quests, however, in which group leaders cook, set up tents, chop wood and start campfires — while the paying guests sit back and watch.


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