Wilderness Inquiry's Canoemobile isn't your usual van down by the river — this one comes with a trailer carrying pounds of gear and strapped with canoes.

"We are kind of like a rock band where seven of us live out of that van over there, and instead of playing a concert in a different city every night all around the country, we take kids canoeing in a different city every week all around the country," said Corey Dack, one of the leaders of the Canoemobile crew.

This week, the Canoemobile made a stop in Salt Lake City to give a variety of students, from fourth graders to seniors, an up-close and personal learning experience on the Jordan River.

Founded in 1978, Minnesota-based Wilderness Inquiry started with a mission of helping people with disabilities get outside and into nature through outdoor recreation.

"There's a lot of, kind of, the train of thought that if you're in a wheelchair or you have any physical or cognitive disability, you can't recreate," Dack said. "This company was like, 'No, we just need to have different gear, we need to have different resources and we need to have a different attitude.'"

Through time, the nonprofit expanded to include more groups of people who have traditionally had trouble accessing nature, the wilderness and outdoor recreation opportunities.

"We try to really focus on communities full of students who are students of color, come from immigrant families, folks with disabilities, folks from the queer and trans communities — anyone who just has a harder time accessing opportunities like this, that's where we want to program the most," Dack said.

Arianna Kimball studies the shoreline as she and other kids from the Evergreen after school program get to ride in canoes on the Jordan River in Salt Lake City, as Minnesota-based nonprofit Wilderness Inquiry conducts one of their nationwide programs on Friday, April 28, 2023. The nationally recognized Canoemobile program connected more than 550 local elementary, middle and high school students to the Jordan River. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Often described as a "floating classroom," the Canoemobile provides an immersive, educational outdoor experience for thousands of youth every year, right from the seat of a 10-person canoe.

Dack said that the primary goal is to connect people with waterways in their own backyard, like the Jordan River.

"If you come from a family (where) you don't have a lot of financial flexibility, it's really hard to take time off of work, to rent or buy gear, to drive to faraway places — but so many big cities have beautiful waterways in their city," Dack said. "To be able to take people on waterways in their backyard, I think is very restorative to getting back to a more natural relationship with the land and with the water."

She said that many students leave their experiences on the Jordan River with different perceptions than they may have carried into the day.

The program also works to connect students with organizations in their respective home states, such as the Bureau of Land Management, Jordan River Commission, National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency, local Indigenous groups and others to do land-based educational activities as part of the program.

"So we're not just like a bunch of granola hippies from Minnesota that come in for one day," Dack joked.

While Friday marked the end of Wilderness Inquiry's latest tour stop in Salt Lake City, Dack said that they've been able to take 500 students onto the Jordan River over their time in the city.

"We hope that influences how they (students) show up to take care of the river, you know? It could influence how they vote, it can influence their priorities when they grow up and make money-making decisions about how we take care of the water and the land," Dack said.