Children need to get back to nature…
That is the belief of our founder, Joe Deden. As a student Joe studied the Forestry program in Germany, working alongside students from schools who stayed in youth hostels. These students were learning to care for the environment by being educated about the environment in the environment. And it hit him— he had to make this same opportunity available to students in his home state of Minnesota!
1978 – 1983:
Dreams Taking Shape
Joe returned to Minnesota and began working on his vision in 1978. It took Joe two years to organize his concept and assemble a Board of Directors but his vision started to become reality when we were incorporated as the “Root River Hardwood Forest Interpretive Center”. The first board meeting was held on May 15th, 1980, in Joe’s home in Lanesboro. The first Board of Directors included: Dick Nelson, Harry Buck, Dick and Nancy Knowlton, Rick and Joann Sheldon, Frank Irving and Roger Steinberg.
Joe and his family moved to their home to the current site in 1981 and faced many up-hill battles including hauling supplies and kids 3/4 of a mile up hill in snow and mud to reach their house. In 1982, Adult education classes on land management began in the basement of his home
Our second name change occurred in 1983 The “Southeastern MN Forest Resource Center” better represented our mission at that time—to help landowners manage their forest land in a responsible, but profitable manner.
1984 – 1990:
The Shiitake Years
Because of this mission we received a grant from the Governor’s Council on Rural Development to study alternative agriculture crops. This is the start of our Shiitake research and when we issued our first “Shiitake News” newsletter. With funding available from the Laird Norton Foundation we began construction of the Shiitake Mushroom fruiting and processing facility. This building is still referred to as the Shiitake Building, but is now used for storage.
The next several years were spent on the study of raising Shiitake Mushrooms. Shiitake are a delicacy mushroom native to Japan and are grown on hardwood logs as a way for landowners to earn income. We became the number one research facility in the nation on Shiitake cultivation and with funding from the Northwest Area Foundation and the SE MN Initiative Fund we co-sponsored the National Symposium and trade show on Shiitake Mushrooms in 1989 held in Rochester, MN with a tour of our facility as a component of that show. As luck would have it the night before the tour our power lines took a super bolt lightning strike and we were without power for the tour and two weeks after.
1990 – 1991:
Grow or Sunset
The Board of Directors had been wrestling during this time with how to expand our mission to the students that Joe had originally envisioned working with. The board decided on a “Grow or Sunset Campaign” to try to take the first step by becoming a day-use nature center for students. We received a personal check from Betty King of Winona to achieve this goal and the John Schroeder Renewable Resources Building, named for Betty’s grandfather, was built.
As we grew and Joe’s original vision of educating students takes its first steps our focus shifted away from the Shiitake Research. We acquired thirteen acres of land through a special act of legislation and received a two year grant from the Blandin Foundation to “Make Environmental Education happen in SE MN”. This was used to help complete the day use center and begin plans to become a residential center.
1992 to 1997:
If You Build It They Will Come
The John Schroeder Renewable Resource building opened in 1992 and the dream was becoming a reality. With the philosophy of “if you build it they will come” Joe works with staff to expand curriculum and begins construction of the first Tree Tops Ropes Course in 1993. They did come—but as a day-use only center only from a limited distance
The next step in the dream was to make it possible for students to stay several days just like the youth in Germany did. Funding is secured through the Blandin Foundation-Project EarthSense to begin construction of a dormitory and dining hall in December of 1996.
To teach you need to develop curriculum so joining Joe to develop the program was Sheila Fishbaugher, Don “Doc” Schoepski, Maggie Keenan-Schoepski, Lolly Melander, Beth Turnbull, Eric Larsen, Eric Gehrke, and Linda Weed.
Eagle Bluff is Born
After a snowy winter spent shoveling out our construction site, 1997 finds staff getting ready for residential groups. To better reflect our new mission, our name once again changes and we became Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center.
1997 also begins our Professional Naturalist training program. We also become accredited by NCA-CASI agency so when students come to Eagle Bluff they are on more than just a field trip.
Our 248 person Dorm opens in July and our first residential group was a Summer Science group from Albert Lea. The Dining Hall opens in October and a second Tree Tops Ropes Course (West) is constructed with the help of Tri-County Electric Cooperative and Dairyland Power.
So, 19 years after Joes’s original vision, we had become a full-fledged Residential Environmental Learning Center & ready to begin the mission of educating students about the environment in the environment, just like his German inspiration.
And while we had a dorm for sleeping and a dining hall for eating we were still lacking an official classroom building. We had such a busy schedule that we expanded our class meeting spaces to include dormitory upper and lower knuckles, the dining hall, and even the luggage rack. While this worked for a while we couldn’t continue this way indefinitely.
In 2000, the Discovery Center Classroom building was completed and our residential campus became centralized. It also provided expanded learning opportunities including:
- an indoor two-story climbing wall,
- indoor archery range
- auditorium for large group presentations
- a greenhouse
- a mews area that house our live birds of prey
- 12 classrooms.
Our Schroeder building also got a makeover—with the addition of a natural sciences library due to the generosity of the Alice and Andrew Groen Estate.
2001 to 2016:
Rising to the Top
Improving, solidifying and expanding our curriculum became our primary focus. During this time we saw:
- Four birds added to our Raptors program with an outdoor public viewing enclosure.
- The addition of a third High Ropes course.
- The donation of an indoor inflatable planetarium and outdoor telescope.
- Added 10 new classes with a focus on interdisciplinary content and STEM principles.
- Dinners on the Bluff were launched in November 2003 and the lecture topic was “A Mississippi River Update” presented by Mike Davis, MN DNR Mississippi river Biologist. Adults in our communities enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to expand their learning and meet like-minded people.
- We launched FoodWISE Program which established campus wide composting as well as educates visitors about food waste. In 2007 it won the Governor’s Award-Honorable mention for waste prevention.
- An increase in summer camp offerings from 4 to 14. To enable this expansion, four Summer Outdoor Program Internships were created and offered.
- Established a partnership with Hamline University and the National Association for Interpretation to offer a graduate certificate to Fellowship participants.
2016 to Present:
Innovating for the Future
We also worked to improve our sustainability practices thus lowering our ecological footprint. To walk our talk just a little better…
- Partnership with the Lawrence Hall of Science’s BEETLES project to align curriculum and Fellowship program with leading-edge environmental education practices.
- A 1 KW Wind Turbine and a 1 kW Solar panel were erected much like our visitors would install at their homes.
- A 6.15 KW TenK solar funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund was installed late fall 2014.
- In 2010, we were awarded a Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) grant to retrofit the Eagle Bluff residence. Builders tours and public open houses are offered to learn more about the project. In 2012, the residence became the 9th project in the nation and the 1st in Minnesota to meet the 1,000 Home Challenge. This recognition program is to recognize homes that have dropped their energy usage to 11,858 kWh per year through retrofit design. Our retrofit dropped our energy cost from $3,789 to $955 per year!
- We were awarded $19,000 from the Fillmore County Soil & Water Conservation District to help us manage our stormwater runoff problems and improve water quality. These funds were used in 3 different locations on our campus with the largest project on the hillside near the Discovery Center. Our solution—terrace the hillside and have metal stairs installed by the discovery center for people to walk down. This terraced area also showcases native plantings.
With our residential program well under way we decide to expand our programming and beginning to offer more educational programming to adults.
The River Roots Skills School classes began on March 29, 2014 with three classes. During the following year 18 other classes were held for a total of 120 participants. In late 2015, the River Roots Skills School name was changed to Eagle Bluff Skills School. This better reflected it as an Eagle Bluff program and its location on our campus.
Our latest expansion in the summer of 2015 finds us setting up in a storefront on the main street in Lanesboro. Thanks to our eco-tourism grants from Arlin Falck Foundation and Carl & Verna Schmidt Foundation and a team of volunteers, we are able to have a presence in Lanesboro to make tourists aware of all the amazing things that are always going on at Eagle Bluff!