IMG_0732Though water may be where they feel most comfortable, the campers from Natalie Kate Bolin Memorial Camp spent last Thursday afternoon hauling stones at the Steger Wilderness Center. This is one of many open water swim camps through the Oshkosh YMCA sponsored by Lee Coleman and directed by her son, Jay Coleman, Head Coach for the Oshkosh High School swim team. This particular week long camp occurs every summer in memory of an Oshkosh swimmer, Natalie Bolin, who was killed in an auto accident in 2010. Wisconsin swimmers mainly apply, but they can come from all over the nation and the top 20 applicants are selected. The leaders of the camp are all individuals who have been campers before and have completed a year of college.

IMG_0706When the crew of 28 swimmers, camp leaders arrived at the Steger Wilderness Center they were prepared for any task thrown their direction, which happened to be quarried stone. They spent two hours assembled in a line spanning a quarter mile in the grueling heat passing one stone after another. Though they had hiked 17 miles the day before, they never once failed to impress the Steger Center crew with their musical renditions, laughter, and enthusiastic attitudes. We welcome back the Natalie Kate Bolin Memorial Campers any day!

This week at the Steger Wilderness Center we were joined by multiple generations of the Sullivan Clan. They have been coming to the Homestead for many years with children and now grandchildren. Jim Sullivan, Ian McKiel, and Caitlin Sullivan of Sullivan Stone Works head the masonry crew while the kids keep moral high on the job site with their energetic personalities and creative entertainment.

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The “grown-ups” create beauty through stonework as the kids create it through their art and invigorating presence. Older or younger, the Sullivan clan keeps the Interns on their toes and constantly ready for the next adventure ahead of them.

new collage image-2Photographing here is a profound pleasure. Each day is miraculous and awe inspiring. It never fails to astound me when I view the results of well over a million hours of masterful design and hand labor.

img_871433To actually feel astonishment is a photographer’s dream condition.

Will’s designs always play with light… morning light, evening light, and seasonal differences in qualities of light. North light, south light, east and west light, Will’s buildings play them all like a never-ending, always changing Mahler symphony.

Though I began photographing here eight years ago, I feel as if I’ve just begun. The wonder of it all just keeps happening.

By John Ratzloff

 

 

NightlifeWord spread through the Homestead during the day of a natural marvel not to be missed. After nightfall everyone began streaming into the forest, snaking single file along a trail that leads to a barren ridge poking out of the forest high above an expansive marsh where the end of the lake used to be. With no fertile ground for trees to take root the ridge provides an unobstructed view of a good 20 acres of bog hemmed in by forest. In daylight this view of the marsh is supremely serene and makes for a tent site highly coveted among the interns. Will refers to this overlook as Oak Ridge from the oak trees in the surrounding forest and speaks reverently of the view it affords. On this night, out on Oak Ridge, we felt that reverence as we became witness to a display that went beyond the supreme to the sublime.
Kiki and the Marsh

Gasps of astonishment came from those at the front of the line as they reached the ridge and the marsh below came into full view. The gasps continued down the line as the rest of the party arrived and extinguished their headlamps. All across the marsh, confined within a field of play, was a firefly orgy. Countless miniature lamps flitting about in a massive mating dance over fetid swamp air to the thrumming of tree frogs made for such a surreal and magical spectacle that all we could do was to stare in silent wonder. Eventually there were attempts to describe this phenomenon. The scientists among us saw lampyrides exhibiting bioluminescence. The poets saw a lake of flickering light, like a giant’s disco dance floor flashing the electric energy of life preparing to multiply. All of us basked in the glow of Nature’s generosity – there was no place else we would rather be.

The Power House holds the generators and electric wiring for the Steger Wilderness Center, but there is also a specific room designated for the BAE industrial batteries from Germany. The separate room is necessary because the batteries produce gas fumes and excessive heat requiring the room to be well vented, but also well insulated which will make it easier to heat in the winter. There are two types of BAE batteries: one rack contains 24 gel batteries and the second rack contains 24 flood lead acid batteries. Each individual battery cell is 2.1 volts and the whole unit is 48-volt DC Nom system. These batteries can only hold a fraction of solar energy that the panel array produces.

Greg Mowry, Will Steger, and Todd Yurk Carrying the BAE Batteries

Greg Mowry, Will Steger, and Todd Yurk Carrying the BAE Batteries

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Two Racks of BAE Batteries

Crews experienced a historical weekend at the Steger Wilderness Center as components of the micro-grid were installed in the Power House. A buzz of excitement, but also eagerness for final completion swarmed the Homestead as progress was made only Minnesota’s first fully separate grid from the electric system.

Tom Schroeder, Solar Technician and Team Leader at Sundial Solar

Tom Schroeder, Solar Technician and Team Leader at Sundial Solar

Tom Strom, Solar Technician at Greenstone Renewable Energy and Mike DeBoer, Manager of Operations and Facilities at the Steger Wilderness Center

Tom Strom, Solar Technician at Greenstone Renewable Energy and Mike DeBoer, Manager of Operations and Facilities at the Steger Wilderness Center

John Kramer, CEO of Sundial Solar Energy

John Kramer, CEO of Sundial Solar Energy

Todd Yurk, Director of Technical Operations at Sundial Solar

Todd Yurk, Director of Technical Operations at Sundial Solar

Greg Mowry, Professor at University of St. Thomas School of Engineering

Greg Mowry, Professor at University of St. Thomas School of Engineering

Julie Kramer

Julie Kramer, Painter Extraordinaire

Untitled design-14Painting can be a frustrating and even tedious task as arms begin to tire and frustration builds from first coat to last, but never here at the Steger Wilderness Center. Listening to musical renditions of the oldies, painting faces on walls, and charismatic conversations discussing the ethics of Disney songs give the Painting Maidens a reason to carry on. The past two days Power HouseAndrea Sandeen and I have been painting rooms in the Power House in preparation for installation of the German lead-acid batteries for the new solar panel array.

Last summer, a momentous event occurred at the Steger Center of which many people are not aware. Minnesota’s first fully operational Micro Gridelectrical system separate from the electric grid was installed. Sundial Solar, a Minnesota based company, installed the solar array and will be finishing it this weekend. More panels are being added and the system will be up and running by the end of the summer.

Though it was brutally hot and we became canvases in the process, the painting project was for a purpose that the Steger Wilderness Center has anticipated for decades, a micro grid. The Painting Maidens are just helping on one of the last steps before the finished product.

By Sarah Evans

Homer the CatAfter years of having Huskies on the Homestead, it was due time for another feline presence. Forager turned friendly, Homer the cat has filled that position. Cats have reined the homestead in the past, hence the name “Kit Kat Lodge,” but Homer holds a special place in the community’s heart.

Homer is a very unique cat, with a human like personality. One will recognize Homer by seeing his abnormally short tail and his bulky stature. Guests of the Homestead frequently ask what happened to his tail, but that is exactly the way it should be. Homer is a Manx, which is a particular breed of cat that has shorter tails, pointy ears, and a frame built for hunting.

Homer was not so keen to fill the Homestead cat position when he was brought here three years ago. Homer the CatHe shied away from human contact and hunted the pests around the property. During his first winter at theHomestead, Homer was found starving with the points of his ears frost bitten, and nearly blind. Ever since that winter Homer has been the friendliest member of the community. He runs the welcome committee of the Homestead as well as the hunting crew. One moment he’s performing an acrobatic show to catch his prey and the next he’s cuddling in a chair. In his free time, Homer lounges in the sun, hunts for his meals, and rests along the solar panels, in the wood stack or the occasional chair or two. Sleeping during the day, and hunting at night, Homer is always the center of attention.