Steger Wilderness Center board chair Julie Ristau has a proven track record of clarifying a vision and then making it happen in practical terms. Her extraordinary background dovetails well with the mission of the Center.

A few of her start-up projects have included helping launch and lead Utne Reader magazine; serving as co-chair of Homegrown Minneapolis, the local food initiative for the mayor’s office; holding an endowed chair as part of the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture; and founding Regeneration Partnership, a strategic problem-solving collaborative for communities in southern Minnesota. As current chief operating officer for The Main Street Project in Northfield, Minn., she’s spent more than two years building a research and demonstration farm.

“I definitely know what it’s like to embark on a very large project that requires concentrated focus, resources and commitment over time. That’s what we’re doing at the Center, too,” Ristau said.

She lives in Minneapolis and has worked closely with Will Steger as a senior advisor for the Center since 2012. During that time, she’s built its nonprofit platform, coordinated its communications strategy and website, assembled a public relations team to introduce the Center’s microgrid, and works with Steger and the board on strategic planning. She became board chair in 2015.

Ristau said the Steger Wilderness Center is important as a place where people can gather to reimagine the future, re-skill and reconnect to the elements. “Our future really relies on us tending to and taking care of the resources that we all must share. Will’s work is a testament to that. His commitment to future generations is inspiring.

“I believe that interacting with the Wilderness Center is life-changing for anybody who connects with it. I am honored to be playing a role to bring it to its next phase of completion.”

The opportunity to work with a hero doesn’t happen often. Wilderness Center board member Melanie Waite-Altringer has admired Will Steger from afar since she was in 11th grade. She blames her social studies teacher. Steger was on his Trans-Antarctic Expedition at the time and her teacher forced the entire class to pay attention.

“She had us follow him throughout the entire year and we were all upset at first. We thought it was going to be boring and horrible,” Waite-Altringer said. “Then we all ended up being pretty big fans of him.”

Waite-Altringer has been a member of the biology faculty at Anoka-Ramsey Community College for 20 years. She joined the Wilderness Center board in 2016. That summer she also coordinated the “Life off the Grid Energy Conference” at the Center. The conference was designed to educate teachers about how to present new material in energy fields with an eye on attracting young people to carry the technology forward.

She said being on the board enables her to connect with more people than just students at ARCC. Holding the conference at the Wilderness Center greatly expanded overall outreach.

“I’m teaching teachers. But they can then reach so many more students every year. So we’re touching and affecting many people,” she said. “This is totally something different than just coming out of a book. These are real-life experiences that you can pass on to others.”

As a result, she has a desire to help complete the Center. “The future hope for me is that it can affect all aspects of anything having to do with the environment, whether it’s a law, whether it’s education, whether it’s just experiences.”

Waite-Altringer, 43, lives in Elk River, Minnesota. She said she grew up in a nature-loving family. Their vacations were nature-based trips, and they hunted and fished. She enjoys those same activities today with her husband and children.

“Almost everything we do for enjoyment is related to the outdoors somehow. I grew up that way and I’m still that way,” she said.

For a nonprofit organization that’s all about demonstrating sustainable energy, having a solar engineer volunteer to take over its energy systems can render a person speechless.

Mechanical and solar engineer Craig Tarr first visited the Steger Wilderness Center a couple of years ago as part of a solar water-heating project. Tarr said he and Will Steger quickly developed a camaraderie that defied words. He soon asked Steger how he could “plug in” to help. After Steger explained his concerns about the Center’s energy systems, Tarr offered to take charge.

“And his eyes got big,” Tarr said. “He knew I was serious.”

Tarr began amassing his 30-plus years of expertise with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and an emphasis in solar. He noted that back in the late 1980s, solar hadn’t become popular.

“It had kind of been back-to-the-land or hippie guys doing it,” Tarr explained. “I had a ponytail and lived in a teepee, so I can say that.”

In 1994, he founded Energy Concepts in Hudson, Wisconsin, a business that develops heating and cooling systems for commercial buildings. At the time, solar systems were a hobby for him. But in 2007, he put his foot forward with solar as an add-on to his company. He said the idea exploded. Within two years, he was recognized by the state of Wisconsin as the renewable energy company of the year. He had raised the bar to a new level of professionalism, design and field execution in the solar industry. Today, Energy Concepts develops both electric and water heating solar systems.

As part of stage two in formulating the Center’s board, Tarr is its newest member. He has developed the Center’s 5-phase energy plan and will work with Dunwoody College of Technology to complete the architectural designs for the new dining hall. He will also oversee its construction.

“When I joined this board, I had very specific tasks and accountabilities, and Will is relying upon them,” he said. “The whole mission is key upon these off-grid systems.”

Tarr, 57, lives in River Falls, Wisconsin.

Steger Wilderness Center board member Kimball Knutson doesn’t soft-sell her obligation. From the Center’s inception in 2014, her name was one of the five on the documents that officially designated the Center as a nonprofit organization.

“We are the people that said, ‘if this thing doesn’t go, we will be responsible,’” she said.

But her commitment to such undertakings isn’t new. She was also a founding board member of the Will Steger Foundation, which later became Climate Generation. She served two terms on the Foundation board.

Knutson has known Steger for about 10 years. She indicated she’s developed a confidence in him and the Center’s mission during that time. “Every day I feel there’s more substance to it,” she said.

She also believes in what she said is his biggest dream—catalyzing change. “Will can do what he says he’s going to do. We’ve seen him do it,” she said. “I think that his place, what he’s trying to create, although sometimes it seems maybe lofty or far-fetched,… that it has more potential to affect people’s lives.”

She added that she finds pleasure in pursuing those lofty goals, especially considering the effects of climate change and environmental degradation. It dovetails with her interests, passions and desire to contribute.

“It’s in my wheelhouse of protecting the planet, protecting nature, environmental education, bringing people together and sustainable energy,” Knutson said. “It’s a wonderful community… and it’s an honor to be a part of.”

Her endeavors include visions of the Center as a powerful organization being run with integrity and thoughtfulness, “a topnotch, squeaky-clean, hardworking, ‘Little Engine that Could’ kind of organization.”

Knutson, 62, lives in South Minneapolis. She is the director of horticulture for Phillips Garden in Minneapolis, an innovative, award-winning landscaping company. She’s worked in the industry for 35 years and operated her own business before merging with them four years ago. Along with providing fundraising assistance at the Center, she helps with gardening, growing and forestry issues.

According to Wilderness Center board member Peter Wahlstrom, his connection with nature, especially wilderness, began with the spin of a steering wheel.

“When it came to going on family vacations, my parents, bless their hearts, turned the car north. I think that’s one of the most consequential things of my life,” Wahlstrom said. “It’s where my passion is. I like to consider myself a wilderness evangelist.”

Tree-thumping aside, Wahlstrom said wilderness has profoundly developed his character and transformed him into a better human being. As a philosophy and humanities instructor at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, he feels one the best things he can do for students and family members is expose them to that “wonderful shaping influence.”

“I think serving on the board of the Steger Wilderness Center will allow me to keep doing that in more of a formal capacity. Basically, that’s a shared vision that Will has as well,” he said.

Wahlstrom has worked with Will Steger for 10 years and is one of the Center’s founding board members. He likens the Center to “raw material,” especially for youth, who yearn for meaning in their lives. For many of them, it starts with an interest in the outdoors. But when they see the Center’s sustainability, they’re struck by how Steger has figured out the good life off the grid.

“They become so enchanted by that idea that they want to keep coming back. They immediately glom onto it. It’s like suddenly their lives have purpose,” Wahlstrom said.

He added they also experience a community that not only lives sustainably and serves as a demonstration model, but they’re exposed to occupations that they really latch onto. These include Old-World skills like carpentry and stone masonry.

Wahlstrom, 56, lives in Harris, Minnesota. He said he derives deep satisfaction from his time and service at the Center. “In this one life we have, that might be the best we can do. It’s looking back on what we did and saying, ‘that made a difference’… For the teacher in me, it’s the most uplifting experience I can have.”

When Wilderness Center board member Jerry Stenger first met Will Steger face to face, Steger was a little preoccupied. He was at the Minneapolis airport loading the cargo plane that was transporting him and his expedition team to the International Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1989.

At the time, Stenger was supervisor for the University of St. Thomas television studio and had taken an interest in Steger’s expedition. Knowing that Steger was a St. Thomas alum, he contacted Steger out of the blue just prior to the expedition and asked for an interview. Steger politely declined, but encouraged Stenger to contact him when he returned.

Seven months later, Stenger got his half hour video interview. Steger later invited him to the Wilderness Center where Stenger shot video profiles for a week. Eventually, he photographed several training expeditions in the early 1990s.

“Then I just sort of became [Will’s] expedition videographer for every expedition from 1990 on,” Stenger said.

Not only was he on the front lines of expedition adventures, Stenger became a founding member of the Will Steger Foundation, now called Climate Generation, in 2005. He served on its board for six years. As the Wilderness Center developed, Stenger became a founder, too.

From a board member perspective, Stenger said he wants to see the Center fully operational. He hopes it will attract small groups of leadership-level organizations, which afford the decision-makers a transformative experience, something that allows them to stop work sessions and spend time in the wilderness.

Having observed Steger’s leadership style and vision on several expeditions, Stenger also emphasized the importance of indefinitely sustaining the Center’s focus.

“One of my biggest concerns is that the place and the environment stays [aligned] with Will’s vision, so it doesn’t become a corporate facility… Really keep the close-to-nature wilderness perspective,” he said.

Stenger, 55, lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. He owns In Tandem Inc., a media production firm where he is a television producer, photographer and editor.

This is an excerpt from:
Anderson: Steger, 72, embarks on latest solo canoe/sled adventure

By BRIAN PETERSON, Star Tribune on 03/24/17

For the full article, click below:

Anderson: Steger, 72, embarks on latest solo canoe/sled adventure
Thirty-one years have passed since Will Steger led the world’s first unsupported trek to the North Pole by dogsled. Up next he’s headed from Ely to Burchell Lake, Ontario.
March 24, 2017 — 5:35am

Thirty-one years have passed since Will Steger led the world’s first unsupported trek to the North Pole by dogsled. Up next he’s headed from Ely to Burchell Lake, Ontario.

Thursday morning while trains, planes and automobiles toted Twin Cities residents to their stations of labor, Will Steger began a commute of his own, from Ely to Burchell Lake, Ontario.

But rather than carrying a briefcase or a lunch bucket, Steger loaded his vehicle with a 12-foot-long canoe-sled, two paddles, a single-burner stove and enough oatmeal, butter, cheese, rice and pork to sustain him for a few weeks, or 150 miles through the bush, whichever comes first.

“I’ll be traveling alone in part because it’s safer being alone this time of year,” Steger said. “During spring breakup, when you travel on ice and water, or both, you often have to make decisions really fast, which is easier if you’re alone.”

Thirty-one years have passed since Steger led the world’s first unsupported trek to the North Pole by dogsled. He’s also crossed Greenland by dogsled, the longest such unsupported expedition in history at the time, in 1988, following which in 1995 at age 50, he spearheaded the first and only dogsled crossing of the Arctic Ocean, Russia to Canada’s Ellesmere Island.

Now Steger is 72 and from his encampment outside Ely, he longs still to move on…Read More

The departure point of this year’s solo will be 150 travel-miles northeast of Ely, Minnesota, in northwestern Ontario. I’ll start at Burchell Lake, the headwaters of the Waweag River. It features small creeks and streams that gradually increase in volume as the Waweag flows into Kawnipi Lake in the northeast sector of Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park.

I chose this route because it offers the greatest challenge and the best opportunity to build new skills. The spring thaw appears to be under way in the North, which makes these rivers quite dangerous. They present a combination of thin, unpredictable ice with flowing current underneath. I expect the first part of the expedition to be slow and tedious.

Once on Kawnipi, my route will take me over rivers and lakes as they begin break-up. I expect to return to my cabin north of Ely around April 10th.

You can follow this year’s adventure with me at this link. Each night, I’ll transmit reports via satellite phone and share my present location on Google maps. There will be a lot of unknowns along the way. I look forward to checking in with you.

Will Steger

Follow the expedition, click here for live updates:


Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, interviews polar explorer and environmental activist, Will Steger, on “A Closer Look With Arthur Levitt.”

producer: Arthur Levitt +1-212-617-5560 or

Running time 30:05