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Learning From Lake Superior

October 15, 2018

By Peter Smerud

Peter Smerud serves as Wolf Ridge's Executive Director since 2011. He has been with Wolf Ridge since 1987, serving 24 years as a Naturalist and in a varied set of positions enabling him to have worked in nearly every aspect of operations. He loves the North Shore for it's unique combination of coastal, alpine-like, and northwoods environments.

When you first view Lake Superior on the way to Wolf Ridge, it’s the size that makes the biggest impression.

The vast and occasionally fog-shrouded lake keeps asking you to look at it as you drive along its shore. Large bodies of water have that attraction and this body of water is indeed large. It is the 3rd largest freshwater lake by volume and has the largest surface area of any freshwater lake on planet earth. This magnificent resource touches three states and two nations. For those of us in Minnesota, this adds another significant responsibility to our environmental stewardship obligations.

When the Wolf Ridge Board of Trustees, staff, and their architects started to explore the idea of a facility on the shores of Lake Superior, they randomly surveyed over 650 Wolf Ridge ELC community members: school teachers, parent chaperones, summer camp parents, family program participants, naturalists, etc. A key question on the survey was: What are the critical environmental issues in the coming years, which Wolf Ridge should focus on and assuredly include in its curriculum? Over 40% responded to the survey, and the number one critical issue named was “freshwater access and awareness”.

Note water bottle sample is green with algae. Photo credit Brenda Moraska Lafrancois.

The curriculum being developed will help students understand the importance of monitoring the quality of fresh water and such climate factors as lake ice and its impact on global water cycles. All of this fits perfectly within the mission of Wolf Ridge to develop a citizenry with the knowledge, skills, and motivation to improve our environment.

The next and final step in our Making Waves capital campaign is to build access for students at our Lake Superior field station.

The site is our newest classroom and learning laboratory. It provides the opportunity to expand our water literacy curriculum and to develop partnerships with top-quality research and educational organizations. The field station will help Wolf Ridge teach about the importance of conservation and biodiversity as well as provide access for learners to carefully observe abundant and undisturbed native plant life.

Algae photo by Brenda Moraska Lafrancois.

Recent observations of algae in Lake Superior conjure up old images of the canary in a coal mine used in the past by underground miners to monitor air quality. The algae evidence is suggesting that climate change may be a factor in water quality even for a lake as large as Lake Superior. Wolf Ridge looks forward to playing an important role in educating the next generation of leaders and environmental stewards who will help manage and protect the magnificent natural resource of Lake Superior.

The Making Waves campaign team was recently very pleased to learn that its message concerning the importance of the Wolf Ridge presence on Lake Superior and the plans for its use resulted in an anonymous donation of $50,000 for our project on the property. This recent gift was applied towards a $250,000 matching gift that will move our financing of this project forward. We have now raised approximately 80% of the Making Waves financial goal, and are looking for help to complete this important project. We would love to have you join our team and support the building of our infrastructure to provide freshwater education on the new Lake Superior land.