Students cross-country ski, snowshoe, build fires and learn about how to take care of Wisconsin’s abundant natural resources.
Students cross-country ski, snowshoe, build fires and learn about how to take care of Wisconsin’s abundant natural resources.
THE START of winter sports also means the beginning of the student workshop season at Trees For Tomorrow in Eagle River, a nonprofit conservation specialty school that educates more than 5,000 students every year.

When it comes to the great outdoors and all the natural resources that play into the equation, the importance of conservation rises to the forefront.

We’re talking about things like sustainable forestry, waterfront stewardship, wildlife habitat improvement, reintroduction of endangered species, recycling and general education regarding human impacts on the planet.

The challenge is properly educating new generations that will carry the torch forward in the years to come, equipping them to strike that all-important balance between economic health and environmental stewardship.

One solution made by thousands of families every year is encouraging students to attend a three-day workshop at Trees, where they’ve used field studies and classroom presentations to teach students and their instructors since 1944.

The school is helping bridge the educational gap, for too many of today’s youth live in concrete jungles or are otherwise not being exposed to nature. So the knowledge on which they base their thoughts and beliefs is limited.

Trees has demonstrated the benefits of contemporary resource management to thousands while introducing first-time visitors to an area many will visit again — first as a vacationer and then quite possibly as a seasonal resident or a retiree.

Its target audience is elementary, middle and high school students from Wisconsin, Michigan and northern Illinois. During the school year, groups of 30 to 90 students travel to the Trees campus virtually every week. 

It seems like only yesterday that I was seated in a big tent at Trees, listening to the stories of well-known adult residents who had been introduced to Eagle River decades earlier, during a three-day junior high school workshop.

That 60th anniversary celebration came in 2004, so here we are 15 years later on the verge of celebrating the school’s 75th anniversary. What an incredible milestone — a great time to revive some local enthusiasm for this unique school.

The year’s activities will include a Scholarship Golf Outing in late May, Forest Fest in late July, and some sort of fund-raising event during Cranberry Fest. There will also be a 75th Anniversary Gala held in central Wisconsin, where many of the school’s biggest corporate sponsors are located.

The biggest of these is Forest Fest, which is billed as a free family-friendly event that includes timber sports, logging equipment, forest tours, chain saw carving, wood turners, trappers, sports, children’s events and live music.

The fundraising nature of several events reinforced for me the fact that this nonprofit school needs the support of its community, because it can’t survive on sponsorships and educational grants alone.

Everyone has their own reasons for why they support this or that and, for the scribbler, Trees For Tomorrow struck a chord when it made it clear that logging was an important part of forest management.

Our forests represent the most diverse, most productive renewable resources the world has ever known. When forest managers do their job right, trees are a crop that can grow back after the harvest.

But that’s just the beginning. Timber management equates to jobs, high-demand wood products, creation of wildlife habitat and, almost always, improved growing conditions for the trees left behind in a selective cut.

First and foremost, Trees was founded to help educate the residents of Wisconsin and neighboring states about the importance of reforestation following massive clear-cutting activities in the first quarter of the 20th century.

The facility’s purpose has evolved into much more. Students learn that our society relies on natural resources for survival and quality of life. They learn that resources are limited, so proper management is necessary to sustain them.

They also learn about multiple-use management for the long-term benefit of everyone. Those uses include forest products, recreation, aesthetics, wildlife, wilderness and others.

Where Trees excels is in field-based programs that place people in direct contact with resources that support human needs. The programs teach knowledge and skills that lead to responsible lifestyle choices.

I believe the challenge for local residents is to remember that there is a specialty school right here that teaches these important messages and especially to children who might never be exposed to resource education on their own.

And because it’s located in Eagle River, there’s the added benefit of introducing 5,000 students every year to one of the most treasured outdoor recreation areas in Wisconsin.

You’d be hard-pressed to find another nonprofit organization that exposes that many different kids, every year, to Eagle River and surrounding towns.

One concern is when kids from metropolitan areas do get some insights on natural resources and conservation, their sources are often limited to city folk and propaganda from the anti-logging and preservationist crowd. 

Tomorrow’s conservation leaders will fail without a solid, hands-on grasp of how our natural resources need to be managed for maximum public benefit.

We are blessed to have a school here that helps bridge that educational gap, while also introducing thousands of new visitors to the North Woods every year.