In 1999, Mary Griggs Burke conveyed her family’s Forest Lodge estate to the USDA Forest Service via the Trust for Public Lands. Situated on 872 forested acres along the southern shore of Lake Namekagon east of Cable, Wisconsin, the estate includes fifteen log buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Burke, a long time friend of Northland College, intended the conveyance to allow her family’s conservation legacy at Forest Lodge to serve as inspiration as well as to provide this outstanding location as a premier center for environmental education and leadership.
On January 9, 2017, Northland College joined in Burke’s vision, signing a sixty-year lease agreement with the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest for site programming. This lease is the first to be structured under the authority of the National Historic Preservation Act. It positions Northland to develop, manage, and coordinate opportunities at the Lodge that connect people to place through education and the arts, and foster policy dialogues that provide leadership on the environmental issues of our times.
As a preeminent environmental liberal arts college, Northland is well positioned to shepherd hands-on outdoor studies, research, and workshops here. Jason Maloney, the team leader overseeing the Forest Service’s work at the estate, points to the College’s unique credo when describing this natural partnership; the school challenges students, faculty, and staff to lead on a high path to a better future.
It is in the spirit of leading to this higher path that the SOEI has begun to explore the depth of what Northland College can offer in partnership with the Forest Service and others at Forest Lodge. In addition to hosting adult learning retreats and onsite training sessions for Northland College Outdoor Orientation program leaders, Outreach Coordinator MaryJo Gingras has collaborated with Bro Professor Evan Coulson.
Together they will generate applied learning opportunities to enhance the College’s curriculum while providing meaningful learning opportunities for regional youth and adults. Last fall, Gingras cultivated a relationship with the Island City Academy, a project-based environmental charter school based out of Cumberland, Wisconsin. Outdoor education students in Coulson’s professional development program then developed and facilitated a three-day residential outdoor education program onsite at Forest Lodge.
This collaborative effort is noteworthy as the first time young people have been hosted on the property to connect to the resource, reflect on the conservation legacy on site, and learn about nature through personal experience. With this inaugural program, the Northland College Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute and Island City Academy officially launched the next sixty years of connecting regional stakeholders to the Griggs-Burke family’s conservation legacy and inspiring future environmental leaders.
Since that first collaborative program, Northland College outdoor education students have developed and facilitated a two-day overnight residential program for regional Girl Scouts as well as studied and developed accessibility plans that apply the Architectural Barriers Act to renovation of the buildings and grounds at Forest Lodge.
This student-driven work in outdoor education and universal design leads on a higher path towards a civilization as we wish it to be: one that respects inherent human dignity and promotes natural connections for all.
As the SOEI continues to explore and develop collaborative relationships and creative applied learning opportunities, Northland students, faculty, and staff alike are enjoying opportunities to truly be a part of this emerging Forest Lodge partnership.