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Carleton College – Community Service

May 1, 2023

By Jessica Vance

Alternative to Spring Break

By Lexi Wallace – Carleton College Student

Our alternative spring break trip to Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center was an excellent experience in community service and environmental education. We got to meet a Carl alumna, help out on the organic farm, and participate in some fun outdoor activities, all while reflecting on our role in making the world a better place to be.

Every group attending Wolf Ridge is assigned a naturalist liaison, and even though we are definitely a different kind of group than most fifth-grade classes, we got one too. Enter Rachel Clark, Carleton alumna ‘15, who went above and beyond to make sure we were taken care of during our stay, both physically and mentally. Rachel got us situated in the dining hall and even took us on a late-night walk to Raven Lake to view the beautiful Minnesota stars. Along with other naturalists, Rachel kept us out of the snow banks and on the right paths on the sprawling Wolf Ridge campus. Note to self: Do not back a minivan into a snowbank, it will require massive effort to dig out!

Community Service on the Wolf Ridge Organic Farm

Our purpose in coming to Wolf Ridge was to help out Sarah Mayer on the organic farm.

Because it was still very much winter when we arrived–even though it was our spring break trip!–we mostly processed stored vegetables from the fall. We cut apart many squashes, cubed potatoes, and shelled dried popcorn off the cob. We planted microgreens like broccoli and radishes too! Of course, there was plenty of taste-testing. We assure you that all of the food we processed is delicious and healthy. Under the supervision of farm cats, Mowgli and Grillo, we added the scraps from our food processing to the compost pile.

What would a trip to a residential environmental learning center be without attending a class or two?

Each of us Carls got an opportunity to observe a naturalist and a group of students in classes like “Birds” and “Ojibwe Snowshoe.” We really got a feel for what makes Wolf Ridge so special: hands-on learning and genuine care from all staff alike. Wolf Ridge’s classes are definitely different from the typical college lecture we’re used to, so it was really enriching to reflect what kinds of environmental education we got as kids.

As Carleton College students, we really value working hard and playing hard. That’s why we were so excited to participate in the ropes course for a sunset adventure. Looking out past what seemed like a million trees into the silver water of Lake Superior is not a sight you see every day. We basked in the views and braced ourselves against a chilly wind that crept up on us. There were several opportunities for snowshoeing and skiing throughout the week too, and we developed some leg muscles we forgot we had.

Opportunity to learn about the history of Wolf Ridge and Living Building Challenge Standards

After a lunchtime conversation with Executive Director Peter Smerud and other faculty who keep Wolf Ridge running, it was apparent to us what Wolf Ridge is doing to be a more sustainable place. We learned about the history of MAC Lodge, with its title as the first renovated building to reach Living Building Challenge Standards, as well as the recycled pallet-based heating system. Environmental education is an imperative part of what Wolf Ridge is doing, but it is also about helping children form a loving connection to nature. Because sustainability is making sure there is enough for future generations, we depend on the next generation to continue our sustainability efforts, too.

After a lunchtime conversation with Executive Director Peter Smerud and other faculty who keep Wolf Ridge running, it was apparent to us what Wolf Ridge is doing to be a more sustainable place. We learned about the history of MAC Lodge, with its title as the first renovated building to reach Living Building Challenge Standards, as well as the recycled pallet-based heating system. Environmental education is an imperative part of what Wolf Ridge is doing, but it is also about helping children form a loving connection to nature. Because sustainability is making sure there is enough for future generations, we depend on the next generation to continue our sustainability efforts, too.