Each winter, on the fourth Saturday of February, more than 10,ooo cross country skiers from around the world converge on the small northwest Wisconsin towns of Cable and Hayward to ski the 30-plus miles of the American Birkebeiner, North America’s largest and most prestigious ski race. The “Birkie”, as it’s affectionately known, attracts both elite, Olympic-caliber skiers, as well as citizen skiers of various ability levels. It’s no small feat for a couple of small Wisconsin towns to successfully host such a high-profile event, and they rely quite heavily on the generosity of more than 2,000 volunteers to make it happen. Last weekend, 14 Conserve School students and three staff were among those volunteers working in the background to support skiers and their families.
For a number of years, Conserve School has supported the Birkie by hosting Camp Birkie for kids, which provides a high-quality day camp experience for the children of skiers who have no one else to care for their children while they traverse the rolling hills of northwest Wisconsin’s glacial topography. Cathy Palmer, Conserve’s Director of Outdoor Programs and Residential Life (and a seasoned camp director), directs the experience. This year, 35 campers enjoyed the activities facilitated by the Conserve students, including arts and crafts, an outdoor scavenger hunt, indoor and outdoor winter games, and a visit to the nearby Cable Natural History Museum. At the museum, naturalist (and former Conserve staffer) Katie Connolly facilitated a program about deer.
It’s worth pointing out that the day is not all fun and games for Cathy and her student helpers. After a full day of classes on Friday, the Conserve crew boarded two vehicles and traveled several hours to Cable (a journey made longer than normal by Thursday’s 12-inch snowfall), stopping for dinner along the way. After a “comfortable” night sleeping on the floor of the Cable Community Center, the crew awakened at 6:00 AM to prepare for the campers’ arrival. After a full day of activities, the final campers were picked up by their weary parents around 5:00 PM, and it was time to pack up and head back to campus. The Conserve students were treated to a meal on the way home, and arrived on campus in the evening, exhausted and happy after a busy day of caring for others’ children.
Lexi shares some reflections on her experience with Camp Birkie, writing that “after everyone was there we jumped right in. We led the kids in parachute games, balloon games, pass the hula-hoop, Duck-Duck-Loon and the human knot. The kids had a great time. We were challenged to keep them quiet, safe and warm, but we were able to do so with a little bit of hard work . . . Camp Birkie was awesome! While being utterly exhausted I learned that no matter how hard something is you can keep going — on 4 hours of sleep or not. Everyone on the trip grew a stronger bond through our day together and we all want to do this again. This experience stood out to me because I have never independently done something so involved. Now I can say I actually led a day camp and I can’t wait for the next time I have an opportunity to volunteer! Seeing the faces of others brighten while we got through the day made me realize how important it is to live your life to the fullest and try new things whenever you get the chance. I know in the future that I will want to help others realize this because it is one of the best things I have ever learned!”
Director of Admissions