We were a rag-tag group of French voyageurs, each with a sorry tale, a skill to earn our way, and hope for the future. Heading out in our 20-person canoe, we were on a mission to trade goods such as metal pots, tools and blankets, for furs, with the Ojibwe Indians in northern Minnesota.
Upon arriving in camp, we built a fire, cooked fry bread and raspberry leaf tea, and shaved tent stakes using primitive tools. It was a tough life…..and just one fun afternoon of family camp at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center.
Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center (ELC) is an accredited K-12 educational facility in Finland, Minnesota, with a focus on the environment. Throughout the year they host over 15,000 kids, parents and chaperones through school visits, youth camps and family camps. My family (minus one son who was away at another camp), had the chance to attend a week of family camp at Wolf Ridge last week.
What is Family Camp?
The idea of family camp was on my radar but we had never seriously considered going to one. Now that I get what it’s all about, I wish we had started going much earlier. Basically, it’s an opportunity to play and learn together as a family, without the stress of cooking and planning activities. Plus there’s plenty of free time for Mom & Dad!
Here’s what family camp means at Wolf Ridge:
- Each family stays in a dorm-style room with a private bath.
- All meals are provided (means no cooking for you!)
- Morning supervised activities for kids – while you choose from naturalist-led nature hikes, rock climbing, environmental classes, yoga and other activities for adults.
- Afternoon family adventures (see below – I’ll tell you more!)
- Evening family activities and outings – including canoeing, crafts, campfires and even a camping overnight if you choose (we did!)
- A chance to get to know great families and staff.
- Tons of playmates for your kids – trust me, they will never be bored!
Outdoor Experiential Learning
At a place like Wolf Ridge, you don’t spend a lot of time indoors. That’s because the whole point of the place is to get people outside – in an attempt to overcome the nature deficit disorder that has befallen so many of us in our screen-obsessed world.
Instead, you spend the day in nature’s classroom, learning cool facts about the environment and the history of the area – through fun activities and adventures, that don’t feel like school in the slightest (you are on vacation, after all). It’s experiential learning – meaning hands-on, creative, active, participatory learning – a pillar of the teaching philosophy at Wolf Ridge.
One afternoon involved a hike to an Ojibwe camp (circa 1780’s), where we made baskets out of black ash bark strips, attempted to make fire using flint and steel, hulled, winnowed and cooked wild rice, and played traditional Ojibwe games.
We also spent a day at the Wolf Ridge farm – playing games to learn about pollinators and photosynthesis and how to create nutrient rich soil to grow organic veggies (it’s not easy!) It wasn’t all fun & games though – they put us to work digging, harvesting, washing and prepping. But it was all worth it when we tasted the homemade, wood-fired pizza we made with the vegetables we picked!
Another adventure was the ropes course – a chance to practice teamwork and conquer our fear of heights – with a stunning view of Lake Superior in the distance. For some, like my son Liam, it was just fun and games, but for me it was a pretty big deal to step foot on those wires – both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time!
Future Environmental Leaders
During our week at Wolf Ridge we met many passionate naturalists and environmentalists on staff. They helped us discover native plants, birds and ecosystems, introduced us to the resident animals (Korppi the raven was a fav!) and took us on a tour of campus to see the many forms of renewable energy that power Wolf Ridge. We even got to bake a cake in a solar oven!
Clearly what Wolf Ridge wants most is to help us rekindle our relationship with the natural world. They hope that we leave camp with a renewed appreciation for the environment and a motivation to care for it. Ideally, they will have inspired some of us (especially the younger ones) to be environmental leaders and to pursue careers in the field.
I for one, found it thrilling to spend a week in the woods with my family – far away from the computer screen and the kitchen sink – pretending to be fur-trading French voyageur.
Have you ever been to a family camp? What did you think?
(Disclosure: My trip to Wolf Ridge ELC was comped but all thoughts and opinions written here are my own.)