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Wolf Ridge Students Adapt to Record Setting Winter

This time last year, visitors to Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center were greeted with 47 inches of snow cover­ing the ground. Students navi­gated through the snowy woods in Cross Country Skiing, melt­ed snow to make hot chocolate in Winter Survival, and learned snowshoeing techniques in Su­perior Snowshoe. This year, winter at Wolf Ridge looked a lot different. While the same classes were taught, students and naturalists alike had to adapt to the consequences of the record-setting warmth they experienced this winter. The cross-country ski season only lasted two weeks, students used pre-filled water bottles to make hot chocolate, and naturalists taught snowshoeing classes on two inches of snow.

Diego Medina, a graduate natu­ralist at Wolf Ridge, has experi­enced the adverse effects of the warm weather. “The warm win­ter has definitely made some classes difficult, like Superior Snowshoe. It’s often disap­pointing because we have kids from all different backgrounds, some of whom are excited to do things like snowshoe for the first time. So we go out and try it, but there’s just a bit of snow and so much dirt.”

This warm winter is not a fluke. Across the world, communities are facing the adverse effects of climate change and the North Shore is no exception. Warm­ing temperatures and unusual weather patterns will contin­ue to affect organizations like Wolf Ridge and the field of en­vironmental education in gen­eral. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Ad­ministration (NOAA), the Unit­ed States just experienced the warmest winter on record, with climate disasters and anomalies spanning the country. Climate change impacts are increas­ing for Americans as extreme climate events disturb ecosys­tems, exacerbate existing social inequities, and cost billions of dollars in damages.

Charlie Pavlisich, STEM coor­dinator at Wolf Ridge, spoke about the importance of place-based climate change education as the effects of climate change become increasingly severe and erratic. He explained that as the effects of climate change grow increasingly visible, it will be­come easier to talk about cli­mate change. “The hard part about where we are on the North Shore is that phenomena like oceans rising are difficult to understand. At Wolf Ridge, we will get in-your-face effects, like our lake icing in and out weeks earlier, and it will be eas­ier to see and talk about climate change,” Charlie said.

Both Diego and Charlie spoke to the need to adapt as environ­mental educators in this stage of the climate crisis. Climate change “will change how we teach,” said Diego. “Maybe the lakes won’t freeze anymore, so we won’t teach Frozen Lake Study. Animals like raccoons are moving up here and we’ll have to update our lesson plans to include them. Ultimately, we’re going to have to transi­tion from how things used to be to how they are.”

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