WILD RIVER ACADEMY's Paddle Forward expedition is currently taking place on the Minnesota River! From August 28th until October 11th, our expeditioners will learn about natural and native history, Minnesota wildlife (including the second largest population of bald eagles in the United States), social and ecological systems, communities in the watershed, and more!  

As we paddle we interact with professionals in the river valley, community members, and other paddlers.  After our encounters we share what we've learned with people across the country.  

How to follow the trip!

1.  Watch our videos about the people we've met, communities we've encountered, and the personal journeys of each of the paddlers.  

2.  See where we've camped, paddled, and visited by viewing our story map

3.  As always, we keep very active on social media.  Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for daily updates and beautiful photos. 


Donations to our non-profit are appreciated!

Online fundraising for Paddle Forward 2015: The Minnesota River

Special for educators!

Sign up to be a River Ambassador School to access curriculum and resources as you and your students follow the expedition. Our fellows will create videos to provide an interactive and memorable classroom learning experience.

School visits! If you are a teacher and are thinking to yourself, "golly, I sure would love to meet them along the river with my class," or, "I wonder if they could come into my K-12 classroom and speak to my students?" The answer is, we would love to and yes we can!

We want you to paddle with us! Here is how...

These year we are introducing the Paddle with Paddle Forward Program.  As we explore the Minnesota River, we invite you to join us for an hour, a day, or longer!  We have boats people can use if they are unable to provide their own.  Paddle with Paddle Forward events are sponsored by Friends of the Minnesota Valley.

Dates of Paddle with Paddle Forward Events:

September 5 Lac Qui Parle Lake HWY 119 8:00 AM Saturday

September 12 Wegdahl  to Granite 8:00 AM Saturday

September 19 Vicksburg Park to Redwood 8:00 AM Saturday

September 24 Mack Lake Park to State Hwy 4 8:00 AM Thursday 

September 29 New Ulm to Courtland 8:00 AM Tuesday

October 3 Mankato to St. Peter (7 Mile Creek) 8:00 Saturday

October 6 St Henderson to Belle Plaine 8:00 AM Tuesday

October 9 Shakopee to Russell Landing 8:00 AM Thursday

October 10 Ft. Snelling to St. Paul 8:00 AM Saturday

Interested in joining us?  Please register today!

Meet the Instructors


LIZ JUST- Paddle Forward Co-Founder, Support Vehicle & Group Discussion Facilitator
Liz will be leading the expedition this fall and co-managing the program.  

She is  a native Wisconsinite who grew up just outside of Madison, WI. She attended the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and earned a degree in Environmental Education and Sustainability Studies. During college, an ongoing love for the outdoors merged with her studies fueling her current passions and interests. She spent the last two years exploring different career paths and building a community in Minneapolis, MN. Her favorite time of day is sunrise, she loves spontaneous adventuring, her sport of choice is Ultimate Frisbee, she is always smiling when in the water, she can't go a day without talking about her best friend, she enjoys getting creative in the kitchen, and her sleeping bag feels like home.



NICK RYAN- Paddle Forward Co-Founder, Canoe Guide & Communications
Nick will be riding along side making sure everything is happening behind the scenes and co-managing the program .  

In 2012, Nick graduated from Western Illinois University with a degree in Law Enforcement & Justice Administration, accompanied by minors in Sociology and SCUBA diving. After graduation, he figured he would be a police officer for a while and go from there. Unfortunately for Chicago, Nick was not able to find work in Chicago. His brother Roman put him in touch with Natalie Warren and his life quickly turned upside down.

After many Google Hangouts Nick moved to Washington DC to help start the business that would become Wild River Academy! Queue the 80's movie montage of intense whiteboard sessions, many blunders, fulfilling trips, and a journey down the Mississippi. Nick finds joy in three to six hour runs, he physically can't not journal every night, and in his opinion there is nothing wrong with learning how to skateboard later in life.



NATALIE WARREN- Paddle Forward Co-Founder, Mentor
Natalie will be acting as a mentor and support for the Paddle Forward team.  She grew up in Miami, Florida where she attended the New World School of the Arts for saxophone performance. In 2005, she flew to Minneapolis and headed North to YMCA Camp Menogyn, a wilderness camp based in Minnesota. After a two week canoeing trip in the BWCA, she fell in love with the wilderness and later decided to pursue an Environmental Studies degree at St. Olaf. In 2011, herself and Ann Raiho were the first two women to paddle the 2,000 miles from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay, following Eric Sevareid's route from Canoeing With the Cree. She believes that wilderness adventures help young adults reach their full physical and emotional potential. After a year of presenting on her Hudson Bay Bound adventure, she wanted to provide something tangible for her audiences...Hello, Wild River Academy! She loves to dress up as a dog, play music, and manage your hunger level on trail. She has too many finger puppets, if there is such a thing.  



Meg Cavalier- Paddle Forward Program Consultant

Meg Cavalier was born and raised in Minnesota. She received her Doctorate in Education from Bethel University in 2013. She has experience teaching taught Life Science, Earth Science, Chemistry, Physics and as an Interpretative Naturalist at the Minnesota Zoo. She is currently the Executive Director at River’s Edge Academy, an environmental charter high school in St. Paul. Meg enjoys spending time with her family hiking at Dodge Nature Center, bird watching, and reading.  Meg supports the Paddle Forward team creating an opportunity for members to receive post secondary education credit.


Meet the Paddlers


Mandy Dahlheimer has an innate interest in dietetics and agriculture because she grew up on her family's dairy farm, where she primarily had the responsibility of feeding cows and calves. She graduated this spring from the University of Minnesota with a B.S. in Nutrition and a minor in Sustainability Studies. She has a passion for understanding the way these two focuses connect. It's critical that food and farming practices are socially, economically, and environmentally equitable, so she hopes to have a career that acknowledges this. Mandy loves being outside, but spends an equal amount of time reading/sleeping in her bedroom or looking for a pair of socks that actually matches. At night you'll find her gazing at the sky and the stars. She has high regards for her family and friends. Most importantly, she loves learning and looks for opportunities to obtain knowledge in various contexts...whether it be travels to new places or conversations with new people! 




Emily Lipson was born and raised in Evanston, IL. She will be graduating the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in December 2015 with a degree in Parks and Recreation and a minor in Outdoor Education and Recreation. During college she enjoyed leading trips for the Center for Outdoor Adventure, working for the University YMCA running an after school program, and cheering for the gophers! She just recently returned from a study abroad trip in Costa Rica where she studied Tropical Ecology and Conservation. She did her research project on developing environmental science curricula for high school and middle school students. She enjoys hiking, rock climbing, backpacking, running, biking, and stargazing. 




David Benda grew up in central Illinois and has been living in Chicago the last three and a half years. He is an avid reader, writer, and outdoors enthusiast. David graduated from Southern Illinois University with an emphasis in creative writing. He is excited to travel the river and collaborate with a great team of people, and is especially interested in how various communities interact with their outdoor surroundings both socially and economically. When not in a canoe, David can be found drinking way too much coffee than can possibly be good for a human, exploring whatever city he happens to be living in at the time, and starting conversations with strangers.





Grace Heneghan is from Madison, WI. She recently graduated from Northland College in Ashland, WI, while there she majored in Gender and Women’s Studies and minored in Environmental Studies. She is currently working as a Trail Guide at YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, a wilderness expedition camp based in Ely, MN. Grace loves a sunrise paddle, a good cup of coffee, reading, discussing pop culture, and watching “Parks & Recreation”. She is looking forward to paddling in a new area and connecting with communities along the way.

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