Erin Nicolardi

2019 Young Alumni Award nominee:

Erin NicolardiErin Nicolardi, Cofounder, Rivers to Ridges (BES 2011, Geography & Environmental Management)
Photo credit: GBP Creative


“The most important goal is for our children, in their everyday lives, to experience joy and wonder, sometimes in solitude—for them to create their own nature experiences and, as they grow up, to expand the boundaries of their exploration.” – Louv

Since 2015, Erin Nicolardi’s social enterprise Rivers to Ridges has sought to foster deeper connections between youth and their community. Through active mentorship, the land-based programs build trust, model positive behaviours and facilitate closer connections with nature. These values mixed with a dash of innate curiosity encourage participants to explore their relationship with place. In just 4 years their team has mentored over 500 young people across the Yukon and have provided over 70,000 hours of outdoor and nature-based training.

“Our organization started with the belief that the more we get in touch with the natural rhythms of nature, the more we tune in with our own rhythms.”

River to Ridges became a 2017 laureate of the Arctic Inspiration Prize and recipient of $100,000 (no small feat!) for the development of their year-round forest pre-school for children ages 3 to 5. The prize is not a “lifetime achievement” award and does not recognize just one great accomplishment or even just one person. It recognizes teams of people who are pushing Arctic knowledge into tangible outcomes which address the causes rather than the symptoms of issues of importance to the Canadian Arctic and its peoples. Rivers to Ridges operates on the traditional territory of Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, and their work is significantly influenced by the Elders and Knowledge Holders who guide their programs. Erin and her partner are a multi-disciplinary team whose substantial, demonstrated and distinguished work in the face of rapid changes in environment, culture, technology and economy are making a positive difference, not only in the North, but in Canada as a whole.

Before heading north, Erin began her journey here at Waterloo. After graduating from the Bachelor of Environment and Resource studies program in 2011, she went on to pursue Outdoor Experiential Education at Queen’s University. Erin has always had a deep sense of care for her place on Earth, but her co-op experiences with the Etobicoke Outdoor Education School and larger Toronto Outdoor Education Schools were the first time she was surrounded by educators encouraging young people to walk more gently on the Earth. The balance of personal growth and academic study mixed with a developing land-based practice with children is something which has remained important to her beyond her years at Waterloo.

Untold numbers of people have influenced Erin’s approach to teaching, and she is continuing to explore concepts such as reconciliation/ decolonizing education, emergent and inquiry-based learning, the power of land-based learning, the impact of intergenerational education spaces, and more through her work at Rivers to Ridges. Having dedicated the last decade to outdoor and land-based learning there is no doubt Erin will continue to encourage people to seek the everyday magic and joy of the great outdoors.