Adventures in the City is just one of the many programs run by Wilderness Inquiry, a nonprofit formed in the 1970s to make the outdoors more accessible to people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. It all started after a skeptical Minnesota senator doubted that women, children and people with disabilities could explore the outdoors on their own. His comments inspired founder Greg Lais to take a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with people with disabilities.
“I never thought that I would keep doing this 41 years later, but it was such a powerful experience for me and for everyone on the trip,” Lais said. “It really was a transformative thing and it changed our world view.”
Now Wilderness Inquiry has taken more than 500,000 people on outdoor adventures — from he Boundary Waters to Yellowstone National Park and even other countries around the world.
Lori La Bey has toured and talked in depth with Greg Lais and his team at Wilderness Inquiry and is very excited to bring his company to the forefront for those living with dementia. I know you will enjoy hearing from Greg. He is full of knowledge and has a variety of travel packages as well as being able to customize to meet your needs. Click on title to listen.
A Force for Transformation
July, 2017 in The Campaign for the Carlson School of Management (click on title to download pdf)
In 1974, three years before the bills were introduced, two Minnesota teachers, Bill Simpson and Tom Rasmussen, had taken a coed group of middle-school students into the Boundary Waters for a winter camping trip. High-school senior Greg Lais went along to help. Although they had to sleep in snow shelters, called quinzhees, as temperatures dipped as low as forty degrees below freezing, the group had such a positive experience they knew that the wilderness could truly be accessible for all—if people were prepared.
When Lais’s sister heard Senator Anderson’s statement, she challenged Lais to host a similar camping trip and encourage people with disabilities to take part. “We put together a group: two people who used wheelchairs, two people who were deaf, and a few friends; and we went up to the Boundary Waters,” says Lais. “We weren’t thinking of starting an organization at that point, but this trip really changed our worldview.”
Greg Lais, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization Wilderness Inquiry, has enjoyed nature in just about every place on earth, including highlights such as Iceland, Costa Rica and Africa.
But one of the most powerful outdoor memories for the 61-year-old social entrepreneur was created much closer to home — in the Brainerd Lakes area.
“My grandparents had a cabin on Big Trout Lake, and my mom and dad used to bring all seven kids up there every summer,” he said. “I remember getting up early in the morning with my grandmother and fishing off the dock. I can still picture her, wearing a plaid wool jacket, smoking Lucky Strikes and leaving a lipstick mark on the rim of her coffee mug. The water was so clear there. I’d stare into it and see sunfish and the occasional northern pike. It just transported me to a different world.”
Lais’ ability to paint such an appealing picture of a crack-of-dawn fishing excursion speaks to one of his obvious talents — the remarkable knack for convincing others to get outside and do things they might never have thought possible.
We drive in the van, 11 of us, through the lake and pine country of Northern Minnesota. Greg strums “You Are My Sunshine” on his guitar, and I make a faltering attempt to accompany him on the autoharp. Behind us the canoes wobble and jerk on their trailer, which also carries nine fatly. packed duffle bags. We wear workshirts and baggy cotton pants, and our hair is already straggly and matted, giving us the appearance of a group whose journey into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is several days old rather than just beginning.
We love our children and we hate to see them struggle, right? But are we harming them in the long run by making things too easy for them? Greg Lais, founding director of Wilderness Inquiry, thinks so and has spent the past 35 years taking people of all ages and abilities into nature to meet real challenges, build confidence through competence and discover new possibilities in themselves. You won’t want to miss Greg’s rich discussion with Marti & Erin, which may change your thinking about the real gifts you can give your children, whether they are toddlers or teens.
Why do you think it’s important for children to face challenges in order to build competence and confidence? What is the down side of making things too easy for your children? This week’s Mom Enough guest, Greg Lais, talked about nature being “neutral.” What did he mean by that and why does that make nature a good place for children to build competence? Leave a comment below!
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Explore Minnesota have named members to the new Outdoor Recreation Task Force. The 20-person task force, which is set to meet via WebEx for the first time on April 28 to begin discussing the state of outdoor recreation in Minnesota, represents a broad swath of outdoor recreation interests in the state.
This is the second in a series of blogs about Wilderness Inquiry Founder Greg Lais’s “Forty Days and Forty Nights in the Wilderness” in honor of Wilderness Inquiry’s 40th Anniversary. Glacier National Park is the first of five major trips Lais will take in 2018.
Iceland is one of Greg's favorite destinations. He describes Iceland's stunning landscapes as mix of Yellowstone and Yosemite with glaciers instead of trees.
Friends of the Lock & Dam was proud to sponsor the City of Minneapolis canoe in Wilderness Inquiry’s 2019 Great River Race, the Race to Close the Achievement Gap! Learn more about this amazing annual event here.
Mayor Frey led a team of Minneapolis staff in a strong showing, paddling for the finish line with 25 other Voyageur canoes on a beautiful September morning. The river was high but gorgeous, and the race route was interspersed with migrating Pelicans gliding overhead, juvenile Bald Eagles circling the water and swooping for fish, and the occasional Double Crested Cormorant sitting low in the water, ready to dive.
Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton kicked off the event with Wilderness Inquiry founder and director Greg Lais.
December 12, 2019
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Explore Minnesota are partnering to launch a new Outdoor Recreation Task Force. The group will make recommendations about how Minnesota can connect more people to the health and wellness benefits of outdoor recreation, improve equitable access to outdoor recreation, and better support the state’s thriving outdoor recreation economy.
February 6, 2020 Greg Lais interviewed by the Carlson School on what he is most proud of during his career. His response may surprise you, but it won't if you know him.
A nature enthusiast, Greg Lais divides his time between several roles. The bulk of his work goes toward serving as the founder and executive director of Wilderness Inquiry, Inc., a nonprofit that promotes social change by making wilderness experiences available to everyone regardless of age or ability. Greg Lais established the organization in 1978 and is responsible for consulting with government agencies, supporting fundraising, and developing programs such as Canoemobile, Outdoor Career Academy, and Gateway to Adventure.
In addition to his work at Wilderness Inquiry, Mr. Lais also serves with various nature-oriented entities. This includes the United States Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Minnesota DNR where he serves as a member of the Outdoor Recreation Task Force. Mr. Lais has also served as a grant reviewer for the Rehabilitation Service Commission of the U.S. Department of Education, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Kinesiology and Leisure Studies at the University of Minnesota, and an active board member with several nonprofits, including the Metropolitan State University Foundation, the Ann Bancroft Foundation, and the Friends of the Lock and Dam.
As testament to his skill in the field, Mr. Lais’ extensive experience is marked by numerous honors and publications. Holding an MBA from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s from St. John’s University, he received such awards as the 2005 Community Building Award from the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR) and the Disability Rights Advocates Eagle Award. Meanwhile, he has written dozens of publications and presentations about wilderness access.