A Wilderness for all: 2023 NMW DEIJ Grants Summary, Part 1
By Lucy Trotter, Administrative Coordinator
Every year, STBW gives around $30,000 in mini-grants to groups, organizations, and individuals who are planning Boundary Waters related trips or projects. The aim of this program is to support folks who are often excluded from the efforts to protect the Boundary Waters, and to foster connections between organizations, individuals, outfitters, camps, and more who all seek to ensure equitable access to wilderness for all.
It has been such a pleasure for me to help coordinate these grants and work with our partners this year. It is so critical to this work to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table, and that the voices of those who face barriers to accessing and protecting the Wilderness are elevated and supported.
In 2023, we funded 11 different groups through the Grants Program. These groups ranged from a YMCA Wilderness tripping camp, to Twin Cities-based school, to an adult birding group that headed up the north shore.
The first trip to hit the road in the winter of 2023 was MN Transitions charter school, led by their art teacher Brett Albin - who has created the opportunity for highschoolers from her school to get to the Boundary Waters in all seasons of the year. Their group of 21 kids spent 4 days and 3 nights at YMCA Camp Menogyn - dog-sledding, building shelters, hiking, and playing in the snow. If you’d like to hear more about the trip and get a little insight to the bonding that happened out in the snow-covered woods - take a listen to the podcast they recorded afterwards.
Wilderness Canoe Base, located up the Gunflint trail, partnered with Urban Village - a St. Paul-based group serving Karen and Karenni youth. 7 kids went on their trip out of Seagull Lake in late July, and came away a number of reflections, including: “Leading means serving,” “Scared but brave,” “Be more open and be in the moment,” “Moving through hard situations takes patience and open-mindedness,” “Grateful that I don’t have to do this every day—but also helps me take things less for granted at home!” and the “Transformational power of community.” Check out the Urban Village instagram to read their post about the trip and see some pictures.
YMCA Camp Menogyn and the Y’s Youth and Family Services, led a trip of adults in August that was truly transformative both for the participants and for the staff who led the group. YFS supports youth in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area facing barriers to stability and self-sufficiency, including homelessness, systemic racism/economic inequality, involvement in juvenile justice or foster care systems, exploitation or trafficking, and other challenges. One of the participants from the trip reflected, “I attended a five-day canoe trip with Youth and Family Services at Camp Menogyn, during the beginning of August. While spending time there, I grew to love not only the area and experience but also the community you’ve made and the values you hold. I want to be a part of that community, wherever I may fit in. Preferably I’d like to work full time, year-round, and as soon as an opportunity is available. Upon arriving back home I can’t see myself being anywhere other than your camp or the boundary waters area. It truly felt like home as soon as I arrived and canoed over”.
Two northern based partners, Bear Witness Media and Ely Community Resource, sent groups of youth to the Boundary Waters in August. BWM led a day trip through Sawbill outfitters in June, for a group of 5 youth and 4 adults, all who are involved in an LGBTQ+ youth support group based in Grand Marais. 5 of these participants have grown up on the North Shore, but had never been into the Wilderness before. BWM also took two groups totalling 9 individuals into the BWCA for an overnight trip in July. ECR led an overnight trip for 6 youth from the Ely area, most of whom had not been to the BWCA before. Take a look at this video for a snapshot of the group’s experience:
The Urban Birding Collective is a local, BIPOC-led environmental stewardship organization that promotes outdoor recreation and healing for all, with a focus on BIPOC communities. This group headed up the North Shore to Duluth to go to the Hawk Ridge nature center.
They also plan to get to the Boundary Waters for an overnight trip in the fall of 2024 - so stay tuned to hear more about their adventures!
The Loppet Foundation, also collaborating with Wilderness Inquiry, headed to the BWCA with a group of 4 youth and 2 adults. It was all of the kids’ first time into the Wilderness, and they learned to paddle, portage, and fully immerse themselves in the nature all around them.
The Ely Folk School has an Anishinaabe Storytelling series planned for this winter, and the first event already happened on December 6th. Michael Laughing Fox Charette of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa was the first guest of the series, and the future speakers will be Char Lewis of Bois Forte on Wednesday, January 17th, and Muriel Deegan at the end of January 2024. More details to come on these upcoming events!