In an unprecedented move, the USDA Forest Service for the second year in a row awarded Northland College and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest the Accessibility Accomplishment Award from the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. The award was presented at a formal ceremony at Forest Lodge June 20.
The award was given for two collaborative projects: for Architectural Barriers Act Compliant design and restoration at Forest Lodge in Cable and for an alternative format guide and audio tour podcast to make interpretation of the Aldo Leopold Land Stewardship Trail at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center accessible for people with sight impairment.
“Having designs done in three weeks and having them implemented and in use in the same calendar year is not at all normal — most would say it is impossible,” said Jason Maloney, the team leader overseeing the Forest Service’s work at the estate, student work, including the podcast, has saved USFS $100,000 in design fees and the product was leaps and bounds better than those provided by many professional design firms.
“Only the impossible would receive back-to-back Chief’s awards,” Maloney said. “I have worked for the Forest Service most of the time since 2000. The only Chief’s awards I have ever seen are the two Northland College has now earned.”
In 2016, the award was presented to Northland College’s Outdoor Education Department and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, for student work in developing plans for making the buildings accessible for all abilities and for implementation of the plans by the Forest Service.
In 2017, Evan Coulson, assistant professor of outdoor education, replicated the project with students, identifying buildings slated for the next round of restoration and designing recommendations for how to make the buildings accessible without compromising the historic preservation. All of their design recommendations have been passed onto the USFS architectural teams.
Coulson said the students approached the design project as more than a class assignment. “It became a mission to contribute to Forest Lodge’s rebirth and provide accessibility to more people,” he said. “William Butler Yeats wrote that education is ‘not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,’ and I think that the promise of Northland College promotes just that—we open up the walls of the classroom and invite students into their community to serve”
In 1999, Mary Griggs Burke conveyed her family’s Forest Lodge estate to the USFS via the Trust for Public Lands. Situated on 872 forested acres along the southern shore of Lake Namekagon, the estate includes fifteen log buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The USFS has plans to restore all the buildings by 2020.
The College signed a sixty-year lease agreement with the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest earlier this year for site programming, coordination and maintenance. This lease is the first ever for the US Forest Service to be structured under the authority of Section 111 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.
Maloney said the partnership fulfills the promise to preserve the buildings as well as making the site an ecological campus. “Northland will coordinate use of this place—and it is already an ecological campus, which is the whole idea that Mary Burke had way back in 1999,” he said.
Maloney pointed 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.
Northland College President Michael A. Miller also noted the special nature of the partnership. “This is about creating a space where we can learn and share stories and have more generations coming to this region to understand wilderness,” Miller said.