CFI History

Canyonlands Field Institute began in the summer of 1984 and continues to connect students and adults with nature through history, education and adventure.

In the summer of 1984, CFI was founded when co-founders Karla VanderZanden and Robin Wilson created their outdoor education dream in Moab. Robin and her husband, Bates Wilson, had explored the idea of an outdoor education center on their property at Professor Valley Ranch. Karla, a graduate student at the USU College of Natural Resources, had similar aspirations. The two met in 1983 it and took just one year to turn their brainchild into a reality with the incorporation of Canyonlands Field Institute.

cfi_scan24Karla and Robin hit the ground running with the help of friends such as Ken Sleight, Tim Graham, and Tom Till, offering a variety of hikes and seminars on natural history, human history, writing, and art. Soon, Professor Valley Field Camp was established on BLM land adjacent to Robin’s Ranch. Robin’s death in 1991 had a devastating impact on all involved with CFI. However, the organization persisted and continued with her memory as motivation.

While river running, hiking, and educational retreats at Professor Valley Field Camp have been CFI’s specialties for the majority of its 30 years, the organization has dabbled in a myriad of activities ranging from graduate study programs, writers’ workshops, and a nightly Canyon’s Edge slide show, to a fishing program for youth that just started this summer.

A monumental event in CFI’s history occurred in 2014 when CFI was required to move its Field Camp operation off BLM land. While the move set many obstacles for CFI’s operations, it was also an opportunity for CFI to expand its services. As CFI turned 30 years old and started its first season at the new Field Camp on private land, the organization can now look forward to growth and even more opportunities at their permanent site.

Today, CFI is nationally known for its educational rafting trips, field study programs at Professor Valley Field Camp, and specialized adult trips that explore topics of local flora and fauna, archaeology, and Navajo culture. In one year, CFI boasts 3,000 user days in outdoor education, hosts over 25 school and youth groups, runs 5 summer camp programs, holds over 15 career training positions, and dedicates a quarter of its underwriting to local youth programs.