From Guest Blogger Megan O’Hara, Youth Outdoor Employment Director:
This summer, Wilderness Inquiry (WI) and the US Forest Service (USFS) worked together to introduce youth to our national forests in Minnesota and lead them in camping and recreational opportunities. The trips covered issues facing our national forests and career opportunities in maintaining and protecting these vital national resources. WI & USFS had 4 main objectives:
Objective 1: Build awareness of outdoor recreation experiences outside of the Twin Cities.
Wilderness Inquiry led 4 trips for 43 participants, including youth, parents, and support staff. The different trips went to the Superior National Forest in Tofte and Ely and to the Chippewa National Forest. The groups focused on learning camp skills and recreational training. Some highlights included:
- Tent setup and campsite organization – identified tent sites and pitched tents.
- Outdoor cooking – prepared meals, practiced sanitary cooking standards.
- Canoeing and water safety – practiced forward, backward, draw and pry paddling techniques.
- Hiking and maps – Read topographic maps, sighted landmarks, and navigated terrain.
Objective 2: Build awareness of the US Forest Service and its missions.
WI Environmental Educators coordinated sessions with various Forest Service experts on a variety of topics to raise awareness and interest in the National Forest unit including:
- Introduction to National Forests – Special presentation by Brenda Halter, Forest Supervisor, Superior National Forest
- Recreation and Wilderness Issues – Covered public land designations and the definition of Wilderness.
- Wilderness Act 50th Anniversary – Youth Groups learned the origins of the Wilderness Act and its impact on the Superior National Forest.
- Soil Erosion Management – Each participant planted 50 trees and learned how proper maintenance of forests can eliminate soil erosion.
- Fishery Management – The groups studied modern fisheries and the importance of managing fish as a resource in our public lands with USFS professionals. One trip group also visited the Northshore Commercial Fishing Museum in Tofte, MN.
Objective 3: Build interest in career paths related to both natural resource management and the outdoor recreation industry.
This was the first outdoor experience for many of the youth on the trip. They were surprised by the variety of recreation and forest service careers and curious about the new opportunities they presented. All curriculum included information on paths to employment.
Youth were engaged in a wide variety of activities designed to foster growth and interest in skills related to outdoor recreation and forestry:
- Aquatic Invasive Species Management – Activity focused on Rusty Crayfish removal from forest lakes. Participants checked traps and verified species.
- Wildland Fire Management – Hands-on exposure to wildland fire fighting rigs and equipment and reviewed fire management techniques used to extinguish small and large fires. Youth were taught the connection between front- and back-country fire management careers.
- Law Enforcement on Public Lands – Youth met forest service law enforcement officers, learned job entry requirements, typical job duties, and career options in front- and back- country settings.
Objective 4: Develop an understanding of what post-high school educational paths are available in pursuing a degree in natural resource management or outdoor recreation industry.
During the trips, we partnered with local tribal and community colleges to describe how to get into college, academic and curriculum paths, and financial aid opportunities. Forest Service professionals discussed their academic background, job responsibilities and career paths into natural resource management. The youth trips made the following college visits: University of Minnesota Duluth, Vermillion Community College, and Leech Lake Tribal College.