Columbia River Field School

History | Culture | Water | Energy | Environment

The Columbia River Field School is an immersive learning experience for students ages 15-18. Over 15 days, students travel the Columbia River by canoe while exploring important aspects of the river’s story through lessons in geography, ecology, hydrology, technology, economics, politics, history and culture. On top of this, the Field School is an opportunity for participants to meet other young people from all over the Basin, have fun together outdoors, learn to canoe, and practice leadership skills.

This program is a 4 credit Board Authority/Approved course (BAA). Students from any school district in the Columbia Basin may earn 4 high school credits upon successful completion of the Field School, through School District 8 (Kootenay Lake). Students may also earn canoe certifications from the Recreational Canoe Association of BC.

On our journey we will paddle key sections of the river and visit important places, including the headwaters, the Columbia Wetlands, historic First Nations’ sites, dams and reservoirs, and more. Along the way, students will meet with a diverse selection of highly qualified guest experts including Indigenous leaders and knowledge keepers, local and provincial government officials, scientists, conservationists, writers, artists, adventurers, and other lifelong Basin residents.

The Field School is designed to give students a much-needed understanding of the complex challenges and opportunities of the Columbia, so they can help shape its future. Participants can expect to gain new friends, rich memories, and a holistic understanding of the river that flows through the place they call home.

Read about what some CRFS alumni are up to now, including poetry describing student experiences on the trip.

Our itinerary

The Field School explores the Canadian part of the Columbia River by canoe, from the headwaters at Canal Flats, through Columbia Lake and the Columbia Wetlands, the Revelstoke area, the Arrow Lakes Reservoir, and to the confluence with the Kootenay River at Castlegar. Participants learn canoe skills and safety at the start of the journey, camp out on the riverside along the way, and paddle important sections of the mighty Columbia.

Along the way, place-based workshops, speakers, activities, and discussions will cover the history and the future of the river, including:

• The geography of the Columbia River, watersheds as a key feature of the landscape
• Indigenous peoples: History, culture, future
• Salmon: History, cultural and ecological importance, challenges, potential restoration
• Key species and ecology: River and wetland ecosystems, endangered and threatened species, invasive species
• Water quality and quantity: Flows, flooding, glaciers and snowpack, water quality monitoring, nutrient flows
• Dams and hydroelectricity: Energy and environment, reservoirs and flood control, the history of dam construction
• Columbia River Treaty: Impacts and opportunities, the ongoing renegotiation
• Climate change: Causes, current and projected impacts, challenges and opportunities for adaptation and mitigation
• Youth: What can young people do to have a voice in decision making?

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Wildsight has made the difficult but necessary decision to not run the Columbia River Field School in 2020. Stay safe and stay tuned: Applications will open for CRFS 2021 in Spring!

For more info, please contact Graeme Lee Rowlands (Program Coordinator) at or Monica Nissen (Wildsight’s Education Director) at You can also leave a voicemail for Graeme at 250.427.9325 extension 230.

Wildsight thanks Ambler Mountain Works, Arjay R. and Frances F. Miller Foundation, BC HydroColumbia Basin Trust, Columbia Power, the Province of BC, the Real Estate Foundation of BC, the Royal Bank of Canada School District 8, and the Recreational Canoe Association of BC for making this program possible.

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