Jake Rhoda, from Becker, signed on to the Stone Masonry Apprenticeship program to learn new skills and meet new people. He enjoys fishing, so spending a month at the Steger Wilderness Center, which is surrounded by lakes, was an added attraction for Jake. Although he misses his family and friends, especially his girlfriend, Jake appreciates the benefits of being at the Center that go beyond learning stone masonry. He enjoys working with his fellow apprentices and residents who values being part of a team that cares about this place and are working together to make a positive impact on the world. As Jake puts it, his eyes have been opened in so many ways.

What was your first impression of Will?
Really nice guy; that he loves being up here and is working for a good cause

What are some strengths you bring to the group?
Work hard and well with others. Set a good example

What do you hope to gain or what are you looking forward to this summer at the Center?
Learning different skills such as masonry and interacting with other people

Tell me about some of the interns, residents workers and apprentices
Everyone is nice and hard working. They complete the tasks

Tell me about a memorable moment you’ve experienced so far at the center
Jasper, Johnny Ray’s Siberian husky chasing after a turtle in the pond

What has been the most challenging thing for you so far?
The strenuous labor at first; more used it now

What are some things you miss?

My friends and family; Girlfriend

What do you wish everyone knew about the center?
How this place can open your eyes in so many different ways, open eyes to the people who work and care about this place

Favorite dishes to eat or cook so far?
French toast

What do you enjoy doing during your free time?

Hiking, canoeing, exploring, going into Ely once a week

3 words to describe you.
Funny, sarcastic, outgoing

IMG_4146 Jenna Pollard came up to the Steger Wilderness Center during the summer of 2009 after completing her junior year at the College of Saint Benedict. In 2013, she was an apprentice stonemason and volunteered for some time during the summer of 2015. During her last visit to the center, she asked Will for a position with more responsibility, and was offered the Summer Residency Program Manager position.
Growing up in Kimball, South Dakota, Jenna started building things from a young age. As she grew older, she learned how to do timber framing through DreamAcres Farm in southeast Minnesota, which has led her to take on several timber framing projects, including building her own small cabin on the prairie in South Dakota.
Prior to becoming the Residency Program Manager, Jenna used to bartend. During her shifts, she developed the nickname “Paddle” due to her all-too Minnesotan responses to customer inquiries.
Jenna is excited to go on weekend canoe trips with residents, staff and apprentices, swim in Pickett’s Lake every day, sauna twice a week and most of all: collecting berries! “I hope to take advantage of every opportunity to play, learn and grow this summer. I want to develop my community-building skills, push myself physically, challenge my problem-solving skills and spend as much time as possible quietly observing my beautiful surroundings,” Jenna said.
Jenna can always be found working on something with a smile on her face. “Trying to do everything and still get enough sleep at night is challenging,” Jenna said. “It’s nearly impossible when you consider the fact that daylight lasts from about 5am to 10pm now…and then there’s all the reasons to stay up until it gets dark: star gazing, listening for wolves and watching for the Aurora Borealis!”
Jenna says she’s always missing something, because she can’t be everywhere at once. After work, there are many activities around the homestead, whether it’s sauna, jam sessions in the atrium or hiking and paddling on Hobo Lake. “I just try to remain content in the present moment so that I’m not missing out on appreciating what I do choose to do,” Jenna said.
Jenna wishes that everyone who visits the center could see the unbelievable energy and companionship that’s generated by everyone in the community, and that no matter what the project is, the relationships that are created along the way are the most important “product” of the work here.
Her homemade bread is thoroughly enjoyed by all. “With 20+ mouths to feed, I could be resident baker and keep busy nearly all hours of the day,” Jenna said. “I try to make bread a few times a week, and have gotten good at kneading six loaves worth of a bread at a time.”
Others can rely on Jenna for her energetic, enthusiastic and adventurous spirit. In her free time, Jenna enjoys baking bread, taking photos of wildflowers and then identifying them, bird watching, fishing, canoeing, woodworking, hiking, playing guitar, singing with friends, tanning hides and cooking community meals.

IMG_4340 Before coming to the Steger Wilderness Center, Jake Potts went to Anoka Ramsey Community College and worked as a driver for UPS. The 26 year-old Coon Rapids, Minnesota, native first heard about the center through Peter Walhstrom, one of his professors at Anoka Ramsey.
Jake has been up to the center twice before this summer, for Ice Ball and a Boundary Waters Canoe Area excursion with Peter that he enjoyed.
His first impression of Will was that he’s a mysterious and private guy. Jake believes the center is a wilderness base for like-minded people to come work and learn from each other. “The actual function of the property is to be a homebase for people who have an interest in preserving or conserving wilderness and learning how to live sustainably,” he said.
This summer will be Jake’s first long-term stay at the center. With previous experience in underground telecommunication construction, he said, “this is by far the most versatile construction experience I’ve had so far.”
When Will needs someone to operate the bobcat, Jake is his go-to guy. “Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy,” he said. “One time I was backing out of Will’s driveway and I got a little too close to the edge.”
The other interns and apprentices can rely on Jake for being conscientious of what’s happening at the job site, what needs to happen next, and how to delegate work that needs to be done. Jake has grown into a leadership position at the center and has a sense of urgency when it comes to completing the task at hand.
Jake’s hoping to gain peace of mind and meet new people this summer. “I was kind of a hermit with work during the winter. I didn’t have a lot of social interaction and I get a peace of mind coming up north,” he said.
Jake is looking forward to seeing the projects completed and woodworking with Sugi, in order to gain the skills necessary to build his own pole barn and woodshop. Jake has enjoyed being around Jenna, the resident coordinator. “Jenna is a motivator. She’s the glue of our community,” he said.
Memorable moments include any gathering down at hobo village with Johnny Ray. “He’s complimented me countless times and helped me see the attributes that I don’t see in myself,” Jake said.
Jake would like people to know the residents are working hard to build a bridge between civilization and nature. “We like to have fun, but we’re working hard toward the end goal of being one with nature,” he said.
Jake misses his family. Around the workplace, Jake is hard-working, tolerant and respectful. One fun fact about him is that he shares the same birthday as John Wayne. In his free time, Jake likes to sit back with a beer, observe people and get to know them.

IMG_4491 Born and raised in Princeton MN, Jaqlyn Bentz is a 21 year-old Anoka Ramsey Community College student pursuing her AA in business. At Anoka Ramsey, Jaqlyn enjoys participating in the theatre program and environment club.
Jaqlyn found about about the center through Peter Wahlstrom. She came up for ice ball this winter with the rest of e club. “It was super cold but at the same time it was great. I kind of got a taste of what living up here was like,” Jaqlyn said. Her mom told her people who want to take care of the environment are usually very compassionate. “I had a bunch of people come up and ask me if I needed snow pants, even though I’d just met them,” she said.
Jaqlyn spent a year working for Americorp with Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that aims to build simple housing for those in need. Three months after graduating, she found herself working there, leading volunteers around the construction sites and showing them how to use power tools.
Her first impression of Will was mostly awe when he came to speak at the college. After listening to him speak, she cemented her interest in wanting to be a resident intern at the center
Jaqlyn remembers rafting down on a homemade raft with empty barrels below to stay afloat on the quarry on the south side of Pickett’s Lake to collect rocks for stonemasonry. She never oared anything larger than a canoe or kayak
One of Jaqlyn’s most challenging things so far is bugs. “The hard labor is not that bad,” she said.
Jaqlyn misses her daycare job and the children there. “It’s weird being away,” she said, thinking of all the things the kids are going to do without her.
“I wish more people knew about the center in general. I think more people would come up if more people knew about it,” Jaqlyn said.
So far Jaqlyn has really enjoyed the homemade pizza. Jaqlyn has spent a lot of her free time reading. Currently she’s reading The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris, which compares human cities to zoos. Her favorite book is That Was Then, This Is Now by S.E Hinton.
A couple of Jaqlyn’s strengths are that she’s hard-working, outdoorsy and patient with others. She hopes to live in a tent for the six weeks because she’s never camped for that long. Jaqlyn hopes to leave her mark at the center by the time her residency is over, returning to Princeton to work at the daycare.

IMG_4319 Nick Sallen is a 21 year-old resident intern from New Hope, Minnesota. He is a senior fish and wildlife biology major at the University of North Dakota and the Editor-in-Chief of The Dakota Student, UND’s bi-weekly student newspaper. This summer, Nick will be responsible for managing the website and social media accounts with help from other residents.
Nick first heard about the center through his roommate, who met Will Steger at UND during the Culture and Climate Festival. After connecting with with Will via email, Nick and Will met in Minneapolis to discuss the possibility of coming to Ely to work on the center’s website and social media.
“Will is a hard-working visionary who knows when to take the lead, and when to empower others to take the initiative. He is a reserved educator, and the world would be better off if there were more people with his personality and mindset,” Nick said.
Nick enjoys the sustainable living that is done here through the use of solar panels, well water and no motorized boats. He is excited to see the center become a place where people from all walks of life can meet to enjoy the flourishing landscapes and life around the center while discussing what can be done on a societal and personal level to limit and possibly reverse climate change damage that’s already being done.
Nick thinks the center is a breath of fresh air from the daily school grind. He enjoys the physical labor that’s done everyday during nice weather. When the weather is bad, Nick also enjoys being able to work from a computer under a roof, compared to being out in the rain.
One of the biggest challenges Nick has had to face at the center is a poor Wi-Fi connection, noting that it’s tough to get any work done when two or more people are connected and surfing the web. Nick hopes to learn more about everyone at the center, because he believes you can learn more from other people than you can from a textbook. One thing that Nick misses is his family, who will be coming up to visit over the Fourth of July.
An avid camper who enjoys spending a portion of his summer in the Boundary Waters, Nick was 13 years-old when he first visited the BWCA, where he fell in love with the land and it’s many lakes shortly thereafter. “I’m more familiar with the Gunflint Trail lakes outside of Grand Marais, but the lakes I’ve paddled through here so far are just as magnificent,” he said.
The other interns can rely on Nick for his curious mind, enthusiasm and honesty. Nick is not a morning person, therefore he was nicknamed “Mogo” which stands for morning gorrilla. During his free time, Nick enjoys running, canoeing, camping, reading and practicing card tricks. The best book he’s read is the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Leif Larson is an 18 year-old freshman from Milaca, Minnesota, who will be attending Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, where he is currently undecided with an interest in biology or outdoor education. After attending ice ball, Leif was interested in becoming an intern at the Wilderness Center this summer.
He first heard about the center through word-of-mouth from his dad. The mosquitoes here enjoy the taste of Leif’s blood, which has resulted in him acquiring the nickname “tasty boy.” Dodging mosquitoes has been Leif’s greatest challenge at the center so far.
Leif enjoys that the center is located outside of Ely, near the Boundary Waters. “I don’t think you could choose a better location for an endeavor like this.”
Before coming up to Ely this summer, Leif spent some time in southern Chile and Argentina. “Having water that comes from a spring a mile away is like a luxury,” he said, after returning from his backpacking trip in Patagonia, where fresh water was hard to come by.
“I wish people could understand exactly what Will’s vision is. People might have a vague idea of what the place represents with catchphrases such as ‘bold ideas’ on the website.”
“Will has it all in his head, and he knows what he wants.” Leif said.
Leif didn’t know what to expect when he first arrived at the center. He is content with how well the interns and apprentices seem to mesh living together in this community. Leif has grown fond of Johnny Ray, the center’s photographer, who is a kind-hearted soul with a lot of wisdom and great stories. He also appreciates Jenna for her positivity and kind demeanor, and is looking forward to learning more about everyone here.
Leif enjoys the synchronized lack of structure at the center. Everyday is a new day and you don’t really know what you’re going to do.
Tacos, spaghetti and pancakes have been Leif’s favorite dishes so far. During his free time, Leif enjoys jumping in the lake, napping, sitting around, canoeing and reading. The best book he’s read so far is Monkey Wrench Gang.
Leif describes himself as intellectual, self-motivated, and bootylicious. He is an ordained minister through the universal life church, and the others can rely on Leif for his sense of humor, well-timed movie quotes and calm demeanor.

Minda Nelson is a 24 year-old entrepreneurial businesswoman from Hugo, Minnesota. She finished her AS in Business at Anoka-Ramsey Community College. She will be going to Century college and is hopeful to be a U of M student someday soon.
Minda plans on building her own non-profit that works with breeding endangered species and promoting green businesses. After this summer, Minda will be starting her new role as Vice President of the Minnesota State College Student Association.
Minda is the only intern this summer with previous experience at the center. She first heard about the center through Peter Wahlstrom, her ethics professor at Anoka-Ramsey. “Peter is strict and straightforward. He’s 10 minutes late to every class, but he’s very relaxed when he comes up here,” she said.
She decided to come back this summer because of the unique community that welcomes all visitors. “Anyone is welcome here, there’s no judgement,” she said.
She remembers one of her first interactions with Will vividly. “He was telling a story and then in the middle of the story, he got up and walked away. I guess he had another thought and his train of thought on the story disappeared, so he disappeared, because he started thinking about another thing. I looked at him as scramble-minded, but he’s just got so many thoughts going through his mind,” she said.
Minda wants to work on herself this summer. “When I’m down in the cities I don’t have time to relax. When you’re up here you work hard and relax after the work day, getting into a good life balance, she said.”
She is also looking forward to putting her mark on the center through the stonemasonry and other work projects that the interns will be doing.
Minda recalls the First week here being the toughest. Getting used to the hard work everyday has been her greatest challenge. “The soreness goes away, but you also get used to the soreness,” she said.
She misses running water for dishes and family, and her toothbrush. One of her favorite dishes was the lasagna that she prepared with Nick for the rest of the interns in her second week. The rhubarb cake for Jake’s birthday was also really good,” she said.
During her free time, Minda enjoys reading and writing, hanging out with the residents and sorting through Will’s memorabilia. Interns can rely on Minda for her ambitious nature, experience, and knowledge of the center. One fun fact about Minda is that she can stick frame a house.

morgan durbin
Morgan Durbin is a 20 year-old from St. Cloud, Minnesota, studying Peace Studies and Environmental Studies as a double major at the College of St. Benedict. During the fall, She’ll work as a tour guide and a research assistant in addition to being apart of the Blazer cross country and track team.
Morgan first heard about center through word of mouth at school. She hopes to learn everyday within every facet of life here at the center. She’s also looking forward to group boundary water trips on the weekend, and spending time with the wonderfully quirky people here.
Morgan has grown fond of the resident photographer Johnny Ray. “He’s a gem and he has the best laugh in the world,” she said.
After work, Morgan and Jenna can usually be found hanging out together. “Jenna described herself as our camp counselor. She’s upbeat, fun-loving and a sagittarius just like me, so we get along well,” Morgan said. Morgan thinks the apprentices seem happy to be here and she’s excited to learn more about them.
One of Morgan’s most repressed but memorable memories include dumping the outhouse waste. Her greatest challenge is the hard labor everyday. But she enjoys being able to see how the work she’s done is making an impact on the center.
“There’s something that really lets you be calm in places as beautiful as this,” Morgan said. Transitioning from India where she was studying abroad during spring semester to the center this summer has been great for Morgan.
“The center is for people to be inspired to save the environment that they’re in, so it’s important to actually see the center and be a part of the community.” Morgan said.
Morgan has been honored with the nickname “granny” at the center, because she goes to bed early and is very caring towards others. She has enjoyed cooking and eating homemade pizza so far. Her favorite novel is Into the Wild, which inspired her to name her new jeep Alexander Supertramp, after the main character in the story.
Some of the strengths Morgan brings to the group include positivity, thoughtfulness and an interest in meeting and learning about people.

John (Johnny Ray) Ratzloff has been a professional photographer for 30 years and photographing the center for over nine years. Before doing photography for Will, Johnny Ray worked at the White Earth Indian Reservation.
Johnny Ray’s hometown is in Ramsey, Minnesota on a farm which was certified organic in 1977. His lifelong friend Peter Wahlstrom has been canoeing with him for 25 years. He was with Peter when he first heard about the center at a fundraiser which Will was speaking at. Jerry Stinger, Will’s videographer, invited Johnny ray and Peter to Iceball at the Steger Wilderness Center a decade ago. “We went to Ice Ball and we haven’t stopped coming back since,” Johnny Ray said.
“First time I drove here it was astonishing. The more I learned about it, the more fantastic it became,” Johnny Ray said.
“Will was hauling a million pounds of sand by dogsled in the beginning from Ely. He’s expanded the notion of what I believe is possible, because the dream of this place needs to be completed, Johnny Ray said. “This is a place for inspiration and it’s going to take inspired people to get us out of this mess we’ve made,” Johnny Ray said.
“I think (The castle) is one of the most important buildings in Minnesota, possibly internationally for its design, quality, beauty and purpose.
Johnny Ray believes that he’s gotten younger in spirit when he spends his summers up here. “I have real severe back problems,” he said. After getting a surgery and physical therapy, his doctor prescribed walking on uneven ground, which describes the terrain of this place very well.
Johnny Ray loves millennials for their wisdom. “They don’t care as much about cars, like my generation did,” Johnny Ray said. “I failed as a businessman in New York. I was working with very little satisfaction. Then when my first child was born, I started to care about the environment and clean water, so I grabbed my camera and got to work,” he said.
Johnny Ray’s first impression of Will was largely disbelief. “He has such an array of talents. He’s quirky, funny and tough,” he said. “He’s got dog stories that will pin your ears back. Luckily, Will’s writing a book about his dog stories. I also think he’s a perfect candidate for AARP because he’s a cancer survivor who’s doing solo expeditions still,” Johnny Ray said.
As the mayor of Hobo Village, Johnny Ray brings wisdom, fairness and plenty of captivating stories to the community. The last 3 years of interns have impressed Johnny Ray. “Each group has worked hard while being harmonious with each other,” he said.
“I discovered my purpose here, and my purpose is to get this story out,” Johnny Ray said.

Three decades after their greatest triumph, Paul Schurke and Will Steger still have the itch to explore.
Both marked the 30th anniversary of their famed trek to the North Pole this week by launching new adventures, albeit a bit closer to home.
Schurke, who still operates a dogsled adventure business near Ely, left Tuesday morning with one of the original 1986 sleds for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where he was to meet up with adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman – who are in the midst of their own yearlong trek in the BWCAW.

Meanwhile Steger, who has become a leading and persistent voice in raising awareness about climate change, set off the same day on his own 30-day trek that will take him from Ontario’s Wabakimi Wilderness, across the Quetico Provincial Park and into the BWCAW, finishing at his Steger Wilderness Center off of the Fernberg Road.
The current adventures come 30 years after the Ely duo, together with fellow Minnesotan Ann Bancroft and five others, made history with a 1,000-mile ski and dog sled quest across the Arctic Ocean to the North Pole.
It was the first confirmed trek to the top of the world without resupply, the subject of a National Geographic cover story, a television special and best-selling book, and an adventure that even caught the attention of the White House.

They may not have known it at the time, as they prepared for a 1,000-mile mission in temperatures that at times exceeded minus-70, but their North Pole triumph would set the stage for careers in adventure.
“The North Pole trip defined my life and livelihood,” Schurke remembered in a written submission to the Echo. “Our home and businesses evolved around the skills, resources and adventure passions we gained from that expedition… Tackling a monumental challenge was fearful for all of us. But our success is now the quiet voice I hear every time I face new challenges that says ‘yea, you can pull this off too.’”
Schurke has traveled to the Arctic every year since the initial trek and together with his wife Sue, launched both the clothing business that is now Wintergreen Northern Wear as well as Ely’s Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge.
Just four years after the North Pole triumph, Schurke led the Bering Bridge Expedition from Siberia to Alaska, hailed as a diplomatic venture that helped reopen the US-Soviet border and reunited native people on both continents.
In addition to operating his businesses, Schurke has focused on wildlands preservation and received the Environmental Hero award from the national Wilderness Society for his efforts.
It’s an evolution that began with the North Pole venture, one that Schurke looks back on with affinity, even with the extreme cold temperatures.
“I never remember being cold – we were working so hard that we were often too warm and worried about sweating out of our clothing systems,” he said.
It also was a trip that relied on dogsledding systems and navigation techniques that were decidedly traditional.
“They were much like those Robert Peary used starting with his first expedition in 1886, exactly 100 years before ours,” said Schurke. “All expeditions since ours have relied on high-tech superlight gear and electronic navigation.”
Like Schurke, Steger was only beginning his adventures when trekking to the North Pole, and he too has spent 30 years making an impact both in exploration and environmental advocacy.
In 1990, Steger completed a dogsled and ski traverse of Antarctica.
Other adventures have taken him across Greenland, as well as the Arctic Ocean from Russia to Canada by doglsed.
Steger has received National Geographic’s Oliver LaGorce Medal and is a leading spokesperson on climate change through the nonprofit Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy.
According to Steger, “lots” has changed about the North Pole in 30 years. The polar ice pack is 30 percent smaller and thinner and the team’s launch site is gone.
“Climate change has disintegrated our staging base, which was Coastal Canada’s Ward Hunt Ice Shelf,” said Steger. “It’s no longer possible to depart from there for the Pole. Arctic ice, which helps stabilize global weather systems, is rapidly diminishing.”