The Vermillion Community College, now the Minnesota North College Vermilion Campus, is what's known as “the Boundary Waters College,” with many of its academic programs focused on wilderness management, forest and water health, recreation, guiding, and wilderness EMS. Many of these students who participated in the dogsled trip were associated with wilderness-connected programs, however studying wilderness is sometimes easier than finding opportunities to visit and adventure in public lands.
Some staff at the college noticed that there wasn’t always an easy way to get students outdoors, especially those who were not enrolled in Wilderness Leadership & Management programs, so an idea to get more students outside was created. It originally started out as a thought to get students into the outdoors campus wide, however, through winter unpredictability and time restraints, it was simplified: The Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) developed a plan to learn the skills required to go dogsledding in the Superior National Forest. To assist in this plan, they applied for a Diversity, Equity, Justice and Inclusion (DEIJ) grant from Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, and were awarded funding for this project.
In March, after some preparation for the excursion, the GSA Club set off for adventure, learning, fun, and growth. For context, March is late in the winter for dog sledding across the lakes of Northern Minnesota Already the sun was shining and the snow had a “Spring” glisten to it. It looked like the top layer of snow would turn into slush in a few hours! A group of students piled out of a van carrying various bags and coats as they prepared to spend the day dog sledding. They gathered at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge on White Iron Lake, a few miles from Ely, where they did a quick introduction to the principles of dogsledding including what to wear, what to expect, and most importantly, what to do if you fall off the sled (the answer was “don’t!”).
The students were excited to meet their dog teams, as well as get out on the lakes before it got too warm. For many of them, this was their first time dog sledding, and for others, this was one of their first outdoor adventures since moving to the Northwoods for college. Regardless of ability level, they all loaded their sleds and got prepared to go!
We’ll let the photos of this day speak for themselves, but after seven hours of sledding, pushing, laughing, and playing in the snow, the students returned home fulfilled and excited for more outdoor adventures!
Students go over the “Do’s and Don’ts” of dog sledding, an important lesson in what is an appropriate way to engage with the dogs, and how to communicate with them during the day.
The students are introduced to their dog teams, and are instructed on how to harness them, and attach them to the gangline which pulls the sled. They mostly had teams of 4-6 dogs.
Students prepare to cast off, the teams are lined up one by one so they can follow each other through the first part of the journey, a more wooded and swampy area.
Two students sharing a sled and one of the guides take a smile break as we wait for all the teams to catch up.
A student and an Instructor from VCC ride through a spruce and tamarack bog.
Alice (the lead dog) takes a quick break while other teams catch up.
A student takes in the fresh spring air next to some rapids that recently had opened up.
Resetting the lines and dogs after lunch, students were responsible for this step after learning how to do it.
Dogs and students in high spirits after lunch!
Students say goodbye to their favorite dogs!
Final snuggles before saying goodbye for the day!
Group Photo, Students, Guides, and Instructors included!
The wilderness and the pursuit of outdoor recreation is crucial in the lives of many of these students, this experience was one that boosted their confidence in winter recreation, and helped them become closer with one another. The dream is to continue this project into the future and help even more students across the campus participate in outdoor endeavors and recreation, and with any luck we can help get more students out into the wilderness!
If you are interested in applying for NMW’s DEIJ Grant or sharing it to someone else, please send Maddie, email@example.com, an email for the information.