By David Stieler
David is a Wolf Ridge naturalist and part of the program team. His focus is on the natural and cultural history of the North Shore. Did you know that water is at its densest at 39°F? This allows seasonal turnover of lakes in the fall and spring!
On the Grand Portage Reservation at the very tip of Minnesota’s Arrowhead, resides Oshki Ogimaag School (meaning “young leaders”). During the 2020-2021 school year, Wolf Ridge partnered with the school and Grand Portage Trust Lands to do outdoor science and natural resource programming for the 4th-6th grade class at the school.
I had the pleasure of being the Wolf Ridge naturalist in charge of creating and teaching these lessons throughout the school year. Since this was during the height of the pandemic, classes were held completely outside and we wore masks as per school policy.
Most of the classes taught this year were the typical Wolf Ridge classes that I modified for a different space. There were a couple of times I was asked to incorporate unique opportunities into the lessons. The first of these was creating a run for snow snakes that the students had made in previous years. This is a game where a stick is smoothed and decorated, then tossed down a packed-snow run to see who can send it the furthest.
The second was to create a lesson around the spring sucker run. If you haven’t heard of this, this is when the suckers leave Lake Superior to breed up the rivers and streams that flow into the lake. Working with the Trust Lands staff to find the best time to explore and look for suckers, we ventured out to a nearby stream. There were about 50 in the 100’ of the stream that we explored. They gathered in pools and the students were able to use dip nets to catch and observe them since they were so plentiful.
The other thing that makes this a great experience was the exploration opportunities. Typically, the students would be bused from the school to our meeting site during my visits. The site was a patch of land near an old house that was turned over to the reservation after the residents left. Being on reservation land, we weren’t confined to a specific piece of land around the house, but instead, we could travel away from our meeting spot into the forest across reservation land as far as we would want to go. We typically explored a similar area, observing different parts of the natural world each time, but we also adventured to a nearby beaver pond to look and listen for frogs.
I had a great experience and I know the kids liked (most) of the classes too. Some of their favorites I was told about during our last day included small mammals, winter survival, beaver natural history, and following the sucker run. Our last day was in mid-May, but I certainly hope there will be future opportunities to work with the school and its students.