A retired orthodontist with a strong conservation ethic donated $500,000 to the Northland College Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute to expand youth outdoor programs and forest ecosystem research and restoration.
Donald Nelson of Northfield, Minnesota, had a twenty-five-year career as an orthodontist at the Mayo Clinic before moving to Northfield, Minnesota. Although he has no direct connection to Northland College, Nelson completed forest restoration projects on farms that he owned in southern Minnesota and shares the College’s commitment to the liberal arts and the values exemplified by Sigurd Olson.
“This gift will have a lasting impact as we expand youth conservation and outdoor programs to connect more young people with the natural world,” said Alan Brew, executive director of the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute.
With the support of Nelson’s gift, the Institute has hired three student fellows to support the Apostle Islands School this spring. A signature program of the Institute and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Island School has been introducing regional school groups to the ecology and wonders of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands for more than thirty years. Nelson’s gift ensures funding of the fellows for another decade.
Nelson’s gift has also allowed the Institute to hire a full-time youth outreach educator who will begin supporting and developing programs for regional youth in June.
“The long-term goal of this new position is to engage young people in outdoor and conservation activities as they come of age surrounded by the same forests, lakes, and rivers that inspired Sigurd Olson,” Brew said.
Additional initiatives funded by Nelson’s gift include ten years of funding for forest ecosystem interns who will complete research, restoration, and educational outreach on three forested properties owned by Northland College; and support for the Hulings Rice Food Center to design new campus garden spaces and to purchase necessary tools and supplies.
“Young people are spending less and less time outdoors,” Brew said. “We believe it’s critical for them to have positive experiences in the outdoors for their physical and mental well-being and because they will be the ones to ensure the continued protection of wild places.”