This past weekend, history teacher Michael Salat led nine students on a backcountry ski tour through part of the Sylvania Wilderness Area, an 18,000-acre federal wilderness which adjoins the Conserve School campus. Sylvania, a part of the Ottawa National Forest, is dotted with more than 30 lakes, and affords visitors the opportunity to travel, under their own power, through old-growth forests. At this point of the winter, the lakes are covered with more than twenty inches of ice, and the landscape is bedecked with about two feet of snow. In such conditions, snowshoes or cross-country skis are the best ways to get around and explore.
Student Jake shared his experience from the day, writing that “we started our journey by taking a ‘short-cut’, which ended up taking twice as long as it should have. Long, steep hills, deep snow, and inexperienced skiers don’t combine well. But the challenge, even if most of us (me especially) got to the bottom of the hill covered in snow, was fun and worth it. It began snowing about half way through the excursion. Really, really beautiful. On the lakes, the gigantic snowflakes falling all around us clouded our vision of the wooded shoreline, making the views really majestic. Deer Island, rising from the center of Deer Island Lake, was very cool and extremely beautiful.”
Jake’s reflections on the experience reveal the value of these optional weekend activities. This group of students were treated to a new perspective on the beauty of the Northwoods, in this case in a wilderness area, practiced life-long outdoor skills, strengthened their connections with each other (and one of their teachers), and had a lot of fun in the process. To top it off, the students were given the opportunity to extend their classroom learning. Jake shared that “we just began studying Antarctic exploration in history class. Skiing across the frozen lakes, with the wind whipping around us and the emptiness at hand, really opened my eyes to the bravery, determination and strength of Shackleton, Scott, and the like.” We think Jim Lowenstine would be pleased.
For more on this activity, check out Michael Salat’s reflections from his teacher web page: