Introducing Joanie and Gary McGuffin, the dedicated advocates of the Superior Watershed Conservancy, who have paddled their way through the vast boreal landscape. This week, the couple embarks on a new adventure in East Lansing, Michigan, where they will kick off the Smithsonian Institution’s five-year traveling exhibition, Knowing Nature: Stories of the Boreal Forest.

For nearly 20 years, the McGuffins have devoted their lives to protecting the Lake Superior Watershed and ensuring a healthy ecosystem. Their passion and expertise will now be showcased as they take on the role of official advisors for the upcoming exhibition. The event aims to educate the public, particularly grade-school students, about the boreal forest’s biodiversity and its global significance through first-hand accounts.

The exhibition, developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), will begin its five-year journey at Michigan State University Museum. Joanie and Gary will lead the first educational program, sharing their excitement and knowledge with young minds and the general public.

Having explored the boreal by canoe for nearly four decades, the McGuffins have experienced the forest’s profound impact on our planet, including its air-cleansing and oxygen-producing abilities. Joanie McGuffin emphasizes the importance of recognizing the boreal’s daily contributions to our lives, as well as the countless species and billions of songbirds that call it home.

In collaboration with the exhibition, Gary McGuffin has provided his own photography, capturing the beauty of the boreal and its connection to Lake Superior. Joanie describes the exhibition as a powerful story about the care of water, forest, and Indigenous worldviews of the landscape.

The McGuffins’ involvement with the Smithsonian dates back to 2010, when they first discussed the idea of creating a traveling exhibition. Carol Bossert, the project manager for science at SITES, guided the formation of the exhibition in 2019. Joanie hopes that the exhibition will inspire a deep connection to nature and highlight the importance of protecting the boreal, both for climate reasons and the hundreds of First Nations communities that call it home.

The 2,500 square-foot exhibition will showcase a range of artifacts, including a birchbark canoe model, handmade snowshoes, and earrings made from birchbark and moose hide. Joanie believes that, after spending so much time indoors during the pandemic, the public is eager to reconnect with nature and experience the benefits it offers.

The McGuffins’ journey begins this Thursday in East Lansing, MI, where they will lead the first educational tour for Wexford Montessori School students. The exhibition will continue at the Michigan State University Museum until November 12th, before traveling to various venues across Canada and the U.S. over the next five years. The couple is excited to share the story of the conservancy with audiences in both countries, inspiring a newfound appreciation for the boreal forest and its essential role in our world.

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