Restoring resources, changing lives.

Conservation Corps LogoConservation Corps Minnesota provides meaningful work for young people in managing natural resources, responding to disasters, conserving energy and leading volunteers. They provide training in resource management, safety, job-readiness and technical skills, helping young people develop personal responsibility, a strong work ethic and greater awareness of environmental stewardship.

Conservation Corps team and WillEach year, 10-12 members of the Summer Youth Corps, one of the Corps programs for youth ages 15-18, work at the Steger homestead on a variety of experiential learning projects, such as laying foundations, building stone walls, removing brush and undergrowth, and many other things. In addition to the great hands-on work experience, young people on the crews have a unique opportunity to learn from and be inspired by Will Steger.

The Summer Youth Corps program changes the lives of young people as they spend the summer working and living outdoors without the daily intrusions of digital music devices, cell phones and video games. As they work on projects that improve outdoor access, water quality and wildlife habitat, they learn skills in natural resource management, working with hand tools, resume writing and interviewing, and civic leadership. The program helps Conservation Corps achieve its organizational goals of connecting youth to the environment, engaging them in leadership development activities and preparing them for future employment.

Mixing cement.Youth in the program work in crews of six, each facilitated by two young adult AmeriCorps crew leaders. Each day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, the crews spend seven hours on project work and one hour on formal education, with a break for lunch. Less formal programming and organized meals are offered in the evenings and on weekends. Recreational activities often include canoeing, hiking and visits to area museums and historic sites.

Working with the Steger Wilderness Center provides a unique opportunity for Conservation Corps to fulfill its mission. By assisting with completion of the Center, the youth crews contribute to a place that will help bring together environmental decision makers. Most of the crew members have not been involved with a project of this scale and vision. They also have an amazing opportunity to talk with and learn directly from Will Steger, as he shares stories about expeditions, adventures and his work on behalf of the environment.

Outcomes:
Setting stairs with a master stone masonConservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa provides hands-on environmental stewardship and service-learning opportunities to youth and young adults while accomplishing conservation, natural resource management and emergency response work. The goals of Summer Youth Corps are to help young people from diverse backgrounds become more connected to the environment, engaged in natural resource conservation, involved in the community and prepared for future employment.

Program Director:
Eric AntonsonProgram Director, Eric Antonson,  has successfully managed the Corps’ youth programs since 2005 and has been involved with corps work for about 13 years, starting as a crew leader in the Conservation Corps in 2001. He also served as a team leader with the National Civilian Community Corps. Today he oversees the Youth and Individual Placement programs, including the Summer Youth Corps. He holds a B.S. in Teaching Life Science from the University of Minnesota Duluth and is completing a master’s in nonprofit administration through Metropolitan State University.

For more information, visit the Conservation Corps website.

summit-logo 175Through Summit Academy OIC, students gain access to high quality training in specialized areas of technology, construction and healthcare. By offering supportive services such as career counseling and planning along with “soft skills” training in the areas of job readiness and leadership development, SAOIC ensures students are well equipped with the technical and professional skills necessary to succeed in the workplace.

In 2008, a unique partnership formed between an arctic explorer and the leader of a North Minneapolis nonprofit that continues to build bridges for individuals from economically challenged neighborhoods.

Summit Team 600Five years ago, Will Steger attended a meeting of H.I.R.E Minnesota – an organization newly founded at the time to ensure public investments in infrastructure and renewable energy lifted people out of poverty, reduced racial disparities and contributed to healthier communities. While at the meeting he met Louis King, president of Summit Academy OIC, who has spent decades in North Minneapolis helping individuals with troubled backgrounds become educated, employed, contributing members of society.

The two have stayed connected over the years as they’ve fought the uphill battle against Minnesota’s racial disparity in unemployment by holding organizations accountable for meeting minority hiring, training and contracting goals on “green” projects.

Will Beth Boonka 600Soon their efforts will converge once more when students enrolled in Summit Academy’s construction training program will travel to Ely, Minnesota to build a cabin adjacent to Steger’s Wilderness Center, a conference retreat facility.

The customized training program was designed to provide students with unique, hands-on carpentry and construction experience while also providing them with the unique experience of building a cabin in the woods.

Final HappyAcres 600Learn more about the students, the project and Summit Academy OIC, which is a Mpls.-based nonprofit accredited educational institution that provides vocational training to individuals from economically depressed neighborhoods.

 

 

 

Program Directors:
Jim JordanJim Jordan, Operations Supervisor, Carpentry

 

 

Beth Halvorson

Beth Halverson, On-Site Instructor, Carpentry

 

 

For more information visit the Summit Academy OIC website

ARCC 2 banner ARCC logo2Each semester, Philosophy and Humanities instructor Peter Wahlstrom, from the Anoka Ramsey Community College system at the Cambridge Campus in Cambridge, MN, assigns a Service Learning project to his Ethics courses.  Because of the relationship he has with Will, one option students have is to complete the civic engagement portion of their Service Learning project by spending a long weekend (Thursday evening to Sunday noon) at the Steger Wilderness Center where they do a variety of manual jobs ranging from brushing, making wood, quarrying rock, gardening, working in the wood shop, and general maintenance.  Usually between 10 and  20 students take advantage of this opportunity every semester.  The college provides the transportation, all participants chip in for food, and the students provide strong backs and a good work ethic.

ARCC - WahlstromThe relationship with Will Steger and his Center has been a fabulous asset to Anoka Ramsey Community College where Wahlstram teaches, and is a source of potent development for him, as an educator and concerned citizen.

Over the last 6 years, an estimated 200 students from Anoka Ramsey have been introduced to the Steger Wilderness Center through the Service Learning project and all of them report being dramatically affected by this experience. 

ARCC 3 500A combination of working as a team in a wilderness setting, being actively involved in the progress of the Center, and having Will as their mentor, fosters the kind of inspiration that makes the idealism so natural to their age come alive.  Students come away caring more and desiring to be a part of the solutions to our environmental problems.  Wahlstrom observes this quiet transformation every time he brings students to the Steger Wilderness Center and considers it the best part of his job. Many students come back to the Center on their own and the very dedicated have earned positions as summer interns.
ARCC 1 500
Outcomes:

From an academic perspective, students are able to use their volunteer work experience to inform a deeper understanding of the different ethical theories they learn in the classroom. It is also an opportunity for students to reflect on the importance of volunteerism for the sake of improving human society; for many it is the beginning of their volunteer career.  Lastly, students gain a profound insight into process and promise of living sustainability.


Peter Wahlstrom, InstructorProgram Director:
Peter Wahlstrom, Instructor — Philosophy/Humanities.  Wahlstrom is also the advisor for the campus Environmental Club (e-club), whose members typically join in on Service Learning trips to the Steger Wilderness Center.  In the summer he teaches a Wilderness Challenge course for which students earn college credit by partaking in a week long trip into the BWCAW.


To learn more about Wahlstrom’s program, visit Anoka Ramsey Community College.

An integral part of the hands-on education offered by the Center, the apprentice program relies on masters in each field providing mentorship for people interested in developing skills leading to self-sufficiency. This past summer, the Master Stone Mason apprentice program led by Will Steger and resident master stone masons took a major step forward with a six-week engagement of youth learning the trade.

In addition, leaders and instructors from Summit Academy OIC attended the Center this past year for a two-week onsite building project embedded in their curriculum, with the Steger Wilderness Center providing hands-on learning in vital life and trade skills.

Distance-wise I didn’t cover many miles today but I put in a grueling 12 hours making my way up the Basswood River. I portage around 8-9 rapids, on each one I broke my own trail. I pretty much went nonstop all day. I did a system where I broke the trail on snowshoes with a heavy pack and then hauled the canoe after that. Making only two trips saved a lot of time. The trails varied, all in deep wet snow, through the woods, alder tickets, up an almost vertical ascent from the river. There was a very strong west wind that propelled me dangerously fast upstream, making me susceptible to tipping with the many boulders that lurked everywhere in the river. It was almost one rapid after another. Paddling above the rapids I have to be very careful with the current and the strong wind. A tip over might be a life-changing event or in many places I would end up going down several rapids. So I was extra careful, but relaxed.

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Distance-wise I didn’t cover many miles today but I put in a grueling 12 hours making my way up the Basswood River. I portage around 8-9 rapids, on each one I broke my own trail. I pretty much went nonstop all day. I did a system where I broke the trail on snowshoes with a heavy pack and then hauled the canoe after that. Making only two trips saved a lot of time. The trails varied, all in deep wet snow, through the woods, alder tickets, up an almost vertical ascent from the river. There was a very strong west wind that propelled me dangerously fast upstream, making me susceptible to tipping with the many boulders that lurked everywhere in the river. It was almost one rapid after another. Paddling above the rapids I have to be very careful with the current and the strong wind. A tip over might be a life-changing event or in many places I would end up going down several rapids. So I was extra careful, but relaxed.

I got into the hard work, remaining in the present, enjoying the day and almost mechanically I did one portage and another with a little excitement of paddling always in between. Making landings and launching all take delicate movement. What was left of the shore ice is now breaking up and rafting down the river in green plates. The wind kept it really cool, ideal for the portages. I barely overheated.

After each portage everything had to be lashed down, tedious job, in an odd way I like doing. I certainly know each piece of gear intimately. I like the simplicity of solo travel. I have lost track of how long I have been out here. I miss nothing, thoughts being somewhere else aren’t even thoughts.

I am in perfect condition. Expedition condition. The first week I did have some concerns, mainly about pulling a muscle. But there is a certain way of moving, it’s hard to explain, but you are always aware of everything you do. It’s not a thought of being aware, it’s just being there, an intuition that I’ve built up for 55 years. One reason I need this expedition is they set me at my mental and physical baseline, it’s like being at your best. The only way I can achieve this is through expedition. The 12 hours a day of hard work, day after day and the mental stamina. It’s like erasing the attitude and barriers that we set up for ourselves, the barriers that make us old. Few people would choose this life, and I am not judging anyone. In this sense I don’t have much in common with most people. There is no comparison of anything, but I don’t bother talking about it. It’s the experience that I walk away with and this is what it is about. I needed, at age 69, to experience that. I have a difficult time running around Lake Harriet in the city. It is so, so, so, tedious, but I can do a 12 hour day here, because there is an adventure around every corner.

Well, I have some big lake travel coming up and then I am home at my cabin, my destination. I will set out early as usual and hopefully it will get cold tonight. I could have perfect conditions, or I could get a foot of water and slush. We’ll see.

Last night I could hear a barely audible sound. It was a muffled roar. I could almost feel it more than hear it. The only reason I could pick it up was I have heard the sound before and when I have it brought a fearful uneasiness. In the evening I could pick it out. It was different from the light whispering of white pine that I camped underneath. It was the sound of big water going over falls or heavy rapids. It’s muffled roar was in the direction I would be heading the next day. I made a couple satellite calls last night. I had a thought that maybe these would be my last calls. Last night I had a feeling of danger and high adventure. The danger and fear come from the thought of the anticipation. I have experienced this before and knew, way down deep, the action tomorrow would be different from my hesitation I felt before I fell off to sleep at 8 o’clock.

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Out of the tent at 4:30 AM and spent too tedious hours by headlight making the portage that goes around Granite Falls and the rapids below it. I broke the trail by snow shoe the evening before and it had set up well overnight. The down hills were dangerous, the canoe would take off like an out-of-control rocket and with my feet post-holed in the deep snowshoe prints it would be easiest to break a leg or hip. The canoe had no regard for the trail, it slid on the icy surface and a couple times it shot off the trail and downhill toward the rapids. I made it to the end of the trail, the actual Granite Falls right at sunrise at six . It was a spectacular sight. Hauling conditions were perfect and navigation was very tricky with islands and big bays with more islands and peninsulas. I took one wrong turn that cost me 1 1/2 hours. The map for the very south of my route was packed away and I got tangled up in Saturday bay. I was able to travel as it thawed only because I was traveling in narrows and around islands where the sun had enough heat to melt most of the snow. However in one narrows I was starting to notice black spots of ice. This is a danger sign of very weak ice caused by current. I noticed a black ice about all around the narrowing, so I followed the snow on the shoreline . This is it was my first alarm of what was to come. There is a major flowage through these islands. Tomorrow the narrows continue to get smaller with rapids and falls. The next 30 miles will be by far the most challenging and adventurous part of the trip.

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Well, I decided to go for it and head for my cabin in Ely rather than ending at the Nina Moose Landing on the Echo Trail. I am now will beheading east on the US Canada border lakes and rivers. It adds a lot more miles and especially a lot of unknowns. I will be traveling the river system on the Canada/US border, it is part of the voyager route. This time I am going upstream which is safer because there is no worry concerns of being swept over falls or rapids. This system has at least five times the volume as the Maligne River so it’s big water. There’re also some extensive lake travel on the route.

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Today it was in all out 11 hour day with only two 10 minute breaks. There is a heavy thaw upon the northland right now. I can still travel during the thaws on the lakes, so today was a race to get off the rivers, and being hemmed in by the deep shore snow . If I didn’t make the lake country today I may be stuck for two or three days in deep snow that is impossible to travel in. So it will be up at four and hauling in the snow on the river at four forty-five . I had skied ahead the afternoon before making a ski trail around the holes and bad spots. It was cloudy and pitch dark, but I was able to make fast time on ideal frozen surfaces using my headlight. It didn’t freeze that hard and it was urgent to make good time while the surfaces held. I made it to the end of my trail when it started to get a little light. I traveled fast but at 6:30 I was stopped by open river. I waterproof everything, secure everything with lashing and decked myself out in my hydro-skin system.

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