Columbia River Field School

History | Culture | Water | Energy | Environment

A 4-credit, multidisciplinary Board/Authority Approved Course (BAA) and two-week canoe adventure, the Columbia River Field School invites 16 local youth aged 15-18 to travel by canoe while exploring important aspects of the river’s story through geography, ecology, hydrology, technology, economics, politics, history and culture. Participants will paddle key sections of the river and visit important places, including the Columbia Wetlands, historic First Nations’ sites, dams and reservoirs, and more. Along the way, they will meet with a diverse selection of highly qualified guest speakers including indigenous leaders, local and provincial government officials, scientists, conservationists, writers, artists, adventurers, and other lifelong 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.

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 Lower 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, potential restoration
  • Key species and ecology: River ecosystems, endangered fish and birds, invasive species, the Columbia Wetlands
  • 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: Impact 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?

Participants can expect to gain new friends, rich memories, and a holistic understanding of the river that flows through the place they call home, not to mention certifications from the Recreational Canoe Association of BC. Students from any school district in the Columbia Basin may also earn 4 high school credits upon successful completion of the Field School, through School District 8 (Kootenay Lake).

To read about last year’s program, click here.

To read about what CRFS alumni are up to now (including some gorgeous poetry inspired by the 2018 adventure), click here.

This year’s trip dates are August 15th – 28th. 

The program cost is $500 with financial aid bursaries available (apply as part of the application).

To be eligible, applicants must be 15, 16, 17, or 18 years old on August 15th and must live within the Columbia Basin Trust region.

Applications for the 2019 program are now closed. Please check back next Spring for CRFS 2020!


A note on accessibility: If you have any questions or concerns regarding your ability to participate in trip activities due to a physical, mental, or medical condition or disability, please get in touch with us to discuss possible adaptations/accommodations. We will do our best to support you.

For more info, please contact Monica Nissen, Wildsight’s Education Manager: monica(at)

Wildsight thanks the Columbia Basin Trust and School District 8 for making this program possible.

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