Dust filled the air of the driveway at the Steger Wilderness Center as the three vans from YEA! MN drove home from their weekend retreat. Fifteen students had arrived Friday evening ready to disconnect from the city life and connect with their fellow group members to review their year of work and discuss their next plans of action. Youth Environmental Activists Minnesota (YEA! MN), a high school environmental leadership program of the nonprofit Will Steger established in 2006, Climate Generation, works with high school environmental clubs around the Twin Cities Metro to encourage environmental leadership and sustainability on campus and beyond.
Will Steger is one man with three active legacies, and Climate Generation, founded in 2006, is one of them. It aims to educate and empower people to engage in climate change solutions. Climate Generation achieves this through programs like YEA! MN, an annual Summer Institute for educators where participants learn about the newest discoveries regarding climate change and climate change education, and by encouraging youth to become involved in public policies pertaining to climate and clean energy.
Climate Generation is a result of Steger’s first and most prominent legacy, his world-renowned expeditions where he witnessed the ravaging effects of global warming on the polar regions. In 1986, he led the first confirmed journey without re-supply to the North Pole by dogsled. In 1988, he led the longest unsupported dogsled expedition across Greenland, a 1,600-mile trip. Finally, in 1989-90, he led the International Trans-Antarctic Expedition, a 3,741-mile long dogsled journey across the widest expanse of Antarctica. These expeditions, Will’s crowning achievements, comprise his lasting legacy that made the others possible.
Steger’s third and newest legacy is the Steger Wilderness Center, which is built to be an example of ecological stewardship, as well a location for leaders of all ages to gather, work, create, and live together. Located in the Northwoods near Ely, MN, the Steger Center is a place where the distractions of urban life are muted in order to shape a community of leaders cultivating innovative thought and action.
Although Will Steger’s three legacies are separate entities, they remain interconnected in the way that each one allows the others to thrive. While members of YEA! MN were at the Steger Wilderness Center, in addition to their conference, they camped, cooked their own meals over the fire, swam, canoed, helped clear brush, and interacted with the Steger Center community. When asked about his experience at the Steger Center, Kumar, 18, from Minneapolis a member of YEA! MN said “this place is one of the coolest spaces I have ever been in my life.” Rebecca, 18 from Minneapolis, added: “The buildings work so well with the environment, everything is so cohesive.” In the end, the weekend at the Steger Wilderness Center for YEA! MN was not only a wilderness retreat, it also served as a bridge for two non-profits hatched by Will Steger to work together and benefit from each other’s experiences.