Wolf Ridge ELC Unveils Renovated Margaret A. Cargill Lodge

The Margaret A. Cargill Lodge is Renovated to Meet the Highest International Standard for Sustainability

FINLAND, Minn. – A vision of outdoor education and sustainability back in 1971 has become a huge success over the years in Lake County.

Staff, students and visitors to this popular attraction continue to stay one step ahead of the game when it comes to going green.

“Wolf Ridge started on the idea of let’s get kids outside and get them connected to their outside environment,” said Peter Smerud, Executive Director of Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center.

The past five years have been busy ones at Wolf Ridge ELC in Finland, Minnesota.

Lunchboxes and students never leaving, even during chaos from construction.

“I’ve never even seen a lake this big,” said Hannah, 7th grade student at East Grand Forks. “We’re doing stream studies.”

She and her classmates are bonding, but also gaining environmental knowledge during their school’s annual field trip to Wolf Ridge ELC.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a good experience to learn,” said Mckenzie, 7th grade student at East Grand Forks.

“We’ve gone on the North Shore trip and that’s where we go to see Gooseberry Falls and Shovel Point,” said Hannah.

Aside from long days outdoors, this group is gifted with sustainable luxury as they reside in the Margaret A. Cargill Lodge.

“This is a renovation of our original dormitory at Wolf Ridge,” said Smerud.

Smerud tells FOX 21 the nearly $4.3 million dollar renovation is part of a larger capital campaign at Wolf Ridge.

“We realized the need we really had to improve our housing offerings for our schools, for our summer camp folks,” said Smerud.

On any given year, over 13,000 students will stroll through the grounds of the outdoor learning center. Now they will also experience a new way of living indoors.

“The renovation has supplied upgrades facilities for housing, lodging, bathrooms, etc. but it has also supplied more communal space,” said Smerud.

Local contractors and workers are helping the private nonprofit organization earn a title never before received in Minnesota or Wisconsin.

Smerud says this group of workers is sourced locally, from Ely, Hibbing, Duluth, and many more communities across the Northland.

“The Margaret A. Cargill Lodge is constructed to the highest international standard of sustainability that one can pursue in buildings,” said Smerud.

The Living Building Challenge requires that living spaces give more than they take from the environment.

Multiple solar panels will help illuminate the newly renovated space and also provide energy to heat water in the building.

“This is truly all local wood that’s in here as well,” said Smerud.

These features have helped Wolf Ridge ELC achieve the goal of the Living Building Challenge.

“The siding on the building came from trees logged up in Isabella, was hauled to Two Harbors and manufactured there; it’s being put on the walls of the building right now,” said Smerud.

“Our group’s been here 42 years, for me it’s about 20 of those years,” said Mark Swenson, 7th grade life science teacher at East Grand Forks.

Swenson says coming to Wolf Ridge every year allows hands on learning experience for his students.

“When you come here it’s a completely different ecosystem and the kids really can put it to life,” said Swenson.

Now from the moment they wake up to the time their head hits the pillow, they’re surrounded by advanced technology and a sustainable way of living.

“We need to learn how to live net zero. This is a huge new opportunity for Wolf Ridge that we will bring to all the schools and summer camp clients that come to us,” said Smerud.

Wolf Ridge is the 8th largest employer in Lake County.

On Saturday the Environmental Learning Center hosted a grand opening, complete with a ribbon cutting for the newly renovated dorm.

The space is only one of 40 across the country to meet requirements of the Living Building Challenge.

Click here to learn more about Wolf Ridge.

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