New river education challenge for kids


Winter River Adventure Challenge, a new youth education pilot program designed to help meet geography standards in a fun and engaging way, made its debut in January and February! This program targeted teams of fourth grade students, challenging them to navigate a snowy adventure course. This expands the park's education programming and allows students to experience the recreational and natural aspects of our national park in the winter.

The challenge really began in the classroom, a critical component for getting students in the right mindset and anticipating some of the finer aspects of navigating an adventure course. Prior to the event, students were visited by River Educators who gave a classroom lesson on the course and how best to prepare for a cold weather activity.

Students learned how to follow a trail map, identify course control flags, punch a passport card, use a compass, dress in layers, and put on snowshoes. The challenge is modeled after adventure racing, which is a growing international team sport similar to the popular reality TV show, The Amazing Race. However, instead of racing like the pros do over multiple miles and days, the students completed what is known as a 'white course' for beginners lasting just under two hours over easier terrain.

Picnic Island at Fort Snelling State Park served as the course site. When students arrived, they received a map, compass, and a passport. After gathering at the start, students were given a signal and off they went to complete the course. Students were expected to use strategy in order to finish the course, and at each of the eight checkpoints students needed to complete two tasks. The first task was to use a map to find a control flag and punch their passport. The second task involved a challenge led by a course attendant.

Challenges included hunting for a stuffed animal, finding a hidden cache using a compass and orienteering skills, identifying trees and animal tracks, completing a snow tube relay, and remaining silent for one minute while listening and viewing natural surroundings.

Throughout the course, students were challenged to closely follow their maps and any given instructions, and most of all, to work as a team. Students also learned that dressing properly paid off in terms of staying warm throughout their time on the course, and that hot chocolate was a perfect way to end the event as evidenced by the many smiles on student faces.

This is a pilot program and lots of lessons were learned in order to improve the experience for next year. One of the pressing challenges for this year was the extreme amount of cold and snow days that occurred. Out of the ten dates that were scheduled, seven of those dates needed to be cancelled. Organizers will take this into consideration when scheduling for next year. Overall, five schools participated in the pilot with 165 students running the course, and 368 students participating in the classroom lesson. The program will now be evaluated and improved with the hope of reaching more schools next winter.

Minnesota educators seeking more information should contact David Kappelhoff at

This project was made possible by a grant from the National Park Foundation through generous support of donors from across the country, including Union Pacific. All of our education programs are made possible by funding from Mississippi Park Connection. Consider supporting these incredible youth enrichment programs with a donation.