MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — An effort to help close the achievement gap in Minnesota is heading outdoors.

More than two-dozen teams participated Saturday in the seventh annual Wilderness Inquiry’s Great River Race in St. Paul’s Hidden Falls Regional Park.

“Wilderness Inquiry is a great organization that’s figured out how to get people outdoors and then, in this case, help get young people get outdoors and link it to helping them improve their schooling,” said race participant Dan Ness.

He is a longtime Great River Race participant and needs no excuse to get out on the water. He’s an avid paddler, but rarely has a team of ten joining him.

“Most of us are pretty regular paddlers in our own canoes or kayaks throughout the years,” Ness said.

Ness and his crew are among the 30 teams competing in the Great River Race. Participants paddle a six-mile course — an effort that will benefit a great cause.

(credit: CBS)

“For a lot of these kids, they have not really experienced the outdoors activities, whether it be camping, or fishing, or paddling, or hiking,” Ness said.

Talon Benavides, a student alumni of Canoemobile, knows from experience that this race reaches beyond the water.

“I honestly don’t know where I’d be at right now without these programs,” Benavides said.

Money raised funds Wilderness Inquiry’s Canoemobile initiatives. The program brings classroom learning outside and engages youth to improve school performance, cultivates a stewardship ethic, and creates pathways to pursue educational and career opportunities in the outdoors.

Participants take part in day trips on local waterways where they learn about science, math, language arts and history — all while paddling.

Research shows that place-based education stimulates learning and helps make academic content relevant to students

“People that don’t do well in a classroom can do amazingly in this outdoor field, and I think that’s a really cool opportunity for people,” Benavides said.

Nationally, 150,000 kids have benefited from the program since its inception in 2011. This year, 30,000 individuals will participate in Canoemobile, including more than 15,000 from Minnesota.

Benavides now participates in the race to ensure kids get the same opportunities he experienced.

“This outdoor education field is what I’m passionate about and it’s something that means a lot to me,” Benavides said.

Since 2011, the race has brought in $425,000 for the program.

Click here to learn more about Canoemobile or Wilderness Inquiry.