Lee Friedman is the Business and Outreach Director of Wilderness Inquiry (WI). Mr. Friedman leads WI’s day-to-day operations and business development activities, strategic partnering, community outreach, sales, and marketing activities. For operations, he directs WI’s financial management, human resources, and risk management. Before joining WI’s staff team in 2007, Mr. Friedman was a partner in the law firm of Briggs and Morgan, and earlier in his career a staff member for the 1991 International Special Olympics Games.
TRO: Please explain the operations and goals of Wilderness Inquiry.
Wilderness Inquiry (WI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the mission of facilitating community integration for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities; promoting healthy lifestyles; and encouraging stewardship of the environment. Since 1978, WI has pioneered integrated outdoor programs, setting best practice standards and serving more than 275,000 people with and without disabilities. In 2010, WI served 16,713 people in 320 canoeing, kayaking, hiking, backpacking, horseback, and dog sledding trips. WI has received numerous local and national awards, including the 2010 Nonprofit Excellence Award from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.
TRO: How did you become involved with the organization and what inspired you to do so?
I shifted professional gears to join the Wilderness Inquiry team in March of 2007. Having been a partner in a Twin Cities law firm, I joined the WI team to help an amazing organization do something important and unique: make it possible for people of all abilities and backgrounds to experience the wilderness together.
TRO: What are some of the travel options available to volunteers?
Volunteers are critical to WI’s success, playing many roles in the office and out on trail. At our headquarters, volunteers help with activities ranging from maintaining and repairing gear and equipment to writing fundraising letters. Out in the field, volunteers serve as boat captains for our Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures (UWCA) program, leading urban youth as they canoe in 24-foot Voyageur canoes on the Mississippi. Volunteers also travel with WI in support roles for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, serving as Personal Care Attendants and Sign Language Interpreters on day trips and multi-day trips. Information about volunteering is available at www.wildernessinquiry.org/volunteer
TRO: Is there any particular activity or destination that seems to be more popular than others?
Our canoeing, kayaking, and hiking programs are all very popular. The same is true for our adult trips, family trips, and adventure leadership travel program for teens. In recent years, we have added several lodge-based trips to our lineup of tenting trips — and demand continues to grow for lodge-based trips. Some of our most popular U.S. destinations are the Apostle Islands area of Lake Superior, Yellowstone National Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and the Florida Everglades. Our most popular international destinations are Costa Rica, Kenya, and Belize. Information about all WI trips is available at www.wildernessinquiry.org
TRO: What is your favorite trip to enjoy with the participants in the program?
I have loved all the trips I have been on, from day trips enjoying urban wilderness on the Mississippi River to the remote beauty of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. I look forward to future opportunities to travel to many more of WI’s destinations.
TRO: WI helps find financial assistance for those interested in these trips. Can you explain how this works?
As a 501(c)(3), WI receives charitable support from individuals, foundations, and corporations. We use this support to provide financial assistance for participants who would not otherwise have the means to experience wilderness travel. Some funding pays for private youth and adult groups to travel with us, and other funding provides scholarships for individuals to join our trips. Individuals and groups can apply for needs-based financial assistance by visiting www.wildernessinquiry.org/financialaid
TRO: What advice would you give to travel agents who wish to recommend your program to individuals interested in WI?
WI offers something for all travelers, with trips to many different locations, featuring many different activities, and trips of varying lengths. I encourage travel agents to visit our website at www.wildernessinquiry.org to learn about our trips, and to call our office at (612) 676-9400 with any questions. Travel agents who recommend WI to their clients can rest assured that WI will provide high quality, safe and affordable wilderness trips — for both seasoned and novice adventurers. WI’s trip fees are generally inclusive of all trip elements other than transportation, and we provide ground transportation for many trips for an additional fee.
TRO: How can travel agents become involved with WI?
We welcome referrals from travel agents, and we’re happy to help agents find the right trip for their clients. We have opportunities for clients to join our scheduled trips or to hire WI to plan a custom private group trip.
TRO: What are some types of WI’s partner organizations and how do those relationships help the organization in its operations?
WI partners with many organizations, including:
* Schools and nonprofits for which we provide custom group trips — and sometimes jointly fundraise to pay for trips. Examples include academic travel programs with the University of Minnesota and a Memorandum of Understanding with Northland College.
* The National Park Service, which is one of our key partners for the UWCA program described above.
* Social service agencies for people with disabilities — to recruit and serve participants on our trips.
* Local outfitters and experts, particularly on international trips — which enables us to provide uniquely local and authentic itineraries, experiences, and opportunities to meet residents in our host destinations.