Wolf Ridge ELC still focused on local roots 50 years later
Joe Friedrichs

Wolf Ridge ELC still focused on local roots 50 years later

It started with a group of Minnesota students who were concerned about the environment. Though their concerns were immediate, they were focused on the future.

Fifty years later, the mission of Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center remains largely the same.

“The idea for this place really started back with the first Earth Day in 1970 and students in Cloquet, Minnesota, and Jack Pichotta, a school teacher who organized the students,” said Peter Smerud, the executive director at Wolf Ridge.

Since that time, Smerud said, Wolf Ridge has emerged as a worldwide leader when it comes to serving as an environmental learning center. The facility hosts nearly 15,000 people per year these days, with education focused on growing organic food and reducing one’s carbon footprint, to advanced curriculum focused on wildlife biology

Of particular interest to Cook County residents and WTIP listeners is how important Cook County and the local education system were in establishing the foundation of Wolf Ridge, Smerud said.

“I don’t know that this place would even exist, were it not for ISD 166. The people of Cook County are the ones that sponsored the first grant so that the environmental learning center in Isabella could even exist,” he said. “Our ties into Cook County were deep and rich, and what enabled this organization to get off the ground.”

Wolf Ridge is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a celebration and gathering Aug. 26-28 at the facility headquarters near Finland. Click here to learn more, including information on a community day open to the public Sunday, Aug. 28.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs visited Wolf Ridge just days ahead of the anniversary celebration and spoke with Smerud to learn more about the history of the environmental learning. Listen to their conversation in the audio below.