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.
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.
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 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.