For the past two weeks the homestead has buzzed with the erratic churning of an ancient cement mixer, the wet smack of shovels on freshly mixed Portland cement, and the scraping of trowels across greenstone. The spontaneous symphony of mason work has since subsided, and the root cellar is now faced with a striking greenstone façade and has a new stone walkway.

 

For the past two weeks the homestead has buzzed with the erratic churning of an ancient cement mixer, the wet smack of shovels on freshly mixed Portland cement, and the scraping of trowels across greenstone. The spontaneous symphony of mason work has since subsided, and the root cellar is now faced with a striking greenstone façade and has a new stone walkway.

When it was first built in 1997, the ice house had a wood-pieced facing over the exposed cinder brick, however, having the doorsill directly meet the dirt pathway leading to it proved to be an issue in the winter. Gradually, dirt and melted snow tracked over the threshold would build up and freeze solid, until eventually the door would become stuck closed. The need for a stone walkway to the cellar became crucial for assured food access during winter months.

Ice House - BeforeThe project was led by stonemason Caitlin Sullivan, who’s been working in her family’s trade since she was old enough to walk. Working with her was Drew Vevea, whose first experience with masonry began last summer on a different Homestead project. Seth Eastwood, Chelsea Leusner, and Andrea Sandeen, all full-time interns, joined the project, and even the Homestead’s summer cook, Nicholas Anton, would pitch in when he wasn’t preparing meals. What they accomplished in so little time is truly incredible, and even more so since Caitlin and Drew were the only two on the team with any prior experience.

Ice House - Caitlin works on the delicate piecing of the stone façadeAt first the amount of work to be accomplished over the coming weeks seemed overwhelming. The ground needed to be dug down with just picks and shovels, then packed with pea gravel before countless batches of cement were to be mixed and hauled by the wheelbarrow full to the site. Granite for filler stone, and then the greenstone needed to be sorted into piles based on size and surface texture before they could be placed. All this seemed incredibly daunting the first day on the project, but after working together for some time, a rhythm to the tasks developed, and everyone fell into the flow of the work. There was little idle chatter, and the mood became almost meditative. More remarkable still was Caitlin’s method for teaching those who had no experience with masonry. “Find a stone you like,” she would say, “place it where you think it should go, and then come find me.” After she had approved the first stone placement for each person, she let him or her work independently. Caitlin’s method of instruction emphasized use of an intuitive sense rather than a calculating one. So in tune was she with her work, that often she hardly had to glance at the pile of stone to choose from before selecting the one she wanted and placing it so it fit perfectly. As the days passed, those who had never before done stonemason work were developing their own intuitive senses for the task and placing stones with confidence. The transformation that took place was as remarkable as the finished project. Over two weeks, a group of strangers became close friends and together created something that will last for countless lifetimes.

Ice House - (left to right) Andrea, Seth, Will, Caitlin, Drew, Chelsea, Nicholas

Last summer interns worked to put in a new railing along the east-facing deck of the center, and progress will resume on the project this coming week. A row of currant bushes that grows up against the glass and granite of the building is neatly contained by the redwood railings interns put into place.

When fitted together, the shape of each railing piece produces an intricate cutout pattern, allowing for a patchwork of lush greens and stone to show through against the rich grain of the wood. This “edible hedge” was designed to contain the currant bushes and create a smooth transition between the different elements of wood, glass, and stone.

An Upcoming ProjectIn the coming week, in addition to finishing the remaining sections on the ground floor, new railings will be installed on the third floor gazebo level. In this way, the finished deck will showcase an interplay of contrasting light and dark tones – a theme which reoccurs in subtle variations throughout the building – and the changing angle of the sun will cast a fluctuating array of shadows on the deck floor. The railing also provides an opportunity to showcase the craftsmanship of those working in the Homestead’s woodshop, as well as provide a use for scrap material. Each piece of redwood is cut from a larger piece of leftover material, before being shaped on a router, sanded, stained, and fit into place. Those scraps which are too narrow to be used initially are meticulously glued together to make pieces wide enough to be used. It is estimated that it will take over eight hundred pieces to complete all the railings on the building.

Sullivan Stoneworks of St. Paul, MN has been an integral part of the Steger Wilderness Center. Master stonemason, Jim Sullivan, comes from a long line of stone workers and has been a master mason himself for more than 30 years.

Stone MasonryLike Steger, Sullivan is an alum of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, majoring in Geology.

For the last five years, Sullivan has been leading the stone masonry apprenticeship program at the Steger Wilderness Center, teaching groups of 8-10 apprentices the craft of stonework for stone walls, foundations, and the incredibly impressive conservatory area of the Center.

The conservatory sits beneath 3000 square feet of glass and Douglas Fir timber-framing. The stonework includes the Center’s foundation, walkways, gardens, wading pools, and small waterfalls that will continually flow through the heart of the Center’s first floor.

All of the stone is locally harvested granite.

Stonework for Sullivan is a family affair. His brother Tim is also a Master stonemason and has been heavily involved in the construction of the Center.

Jim Sullivan has five daughters, some of which have followed in his steps. Caitlin, the youngest of the five and son-in-law Ian, have worked at the Center in recent years.

ice house 03Caitlin recently led a group of apprentices and completed a stone surround and apron for the entrance to the ice house.

Outcomes:

  • Apprentices in the various programs work at the Center for up to six weeks at a time, learning the craft and leaving their permanent signatures behind.
  • Participants learn skills in stone selection that best reflect the physical and aesthetic beauty of each rock placed, and how it fits into the larger picture.
  • They also learn mortared and mortar-less design for stonewalls and other structures.

Program Director:

Jim Sullivan, Sullivan Stoneworks, St. Paul, MN.
Email:

You can see more of Jim Sullivan’s work on his blog: Sullivan Stoneworks

 

For the past seven years, The Steger Wilderness Center has worked with the Cambridge campus of Anoka-Ramsey Community College on a model program to establish targeted partnerships with post-secondary institutions which offer their students credit for community service as part of their classroom curriculum.

Students with limited opportunities participate in hands-on service projects, including clearing brush, construction, solar panel installation, and other projects. Through this program, students gain experience in working as a team, problem solving, leadership and other skills they acquire in the process of doing the work.

 

The program has been extremely successful, with many students reporting transformative experiences. It will serve as a model for other college and university environment programs seeking hands-on experiential learning components for their classes.”

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


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.

UST Green Team
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, MN

 

The Green Team exists to challenge St. Thomas to be a more ecologically sound campus and to raise environmental awareness within our community, both on and off campus. The group each semester sponsors the Mississippi River Clean-up in cooperation with the DNR Adopt-a-River program. It also regularly organizes educational activities, which have included the Earth Week Symposium, camp outs and yearly field trips to the Steger Wilderness Center in northern Minnesota and the Anathoth Community Farm, a Luck, Wisconsin, commune focused on maintaining a negative carbon footprint.

The Green Team strives to create a more sustainable and environmentally-conscious UST community. The Green Team aims at promoting sustainability at UST through educating the community about environmental and social justice issues and engaging the community in sustainable and interactive projects.

The Green Team welcomes every student to join in our cause of promoting sustainability and environmental awareness.

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.

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.

Program Director:
ARCC 5 WahlstromPeter 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.