By Taylor Templer
On October 9th YES! teams from across Minnesota gathered at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center for the 13th annual YES! Fall Summit. Over 130 students and coaches were in attendance representing Lac qui Parle Valley, Minnewaska, New London-Spicer, World Learner/Chaska, Rockford, Discovery Woods/Brainerd, Springfield, Royalton, Mankato West, and Sleepy Eye. The Fall Summit is a kickoff event for the YES! season! The goal of the day is for students to connect with other, students from around the state who want to improve their local environment, learn from local sustainability experts, participate in team building activities, and gather project ideas.
The day began with a welcome from Dave Pederson, Executive Director of Prairie Woods ELC and then Shelli-Kae Foster, YES! Program Director presented a brief overview of YES!. To follow Steve Friedlein, Challenge Course Coordinator at Prairie Woods ELC, led an ice breaker activity for the students to meet each other! Then students broke into 4 rotating sessions including; water quality/canoeing, eco projects, the flying squirrel, and the prairie project.
The water quality session focused on the importance of water quality and how to measure water quality. At the beginning of the session Kory Klebe, with Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, taught students the basics of canoeing. Kady Krivanek, with the Sauk River Watershed District, demonstrated how to take a proper water sample and secchi disk reading. Next, students climbed into canoes to gather water samples from the Lake Florida sloughs to bring back to shore to test for nitrates, phosphates, pH, and more!
The Eco Projects Session involved students in learning about 3 topics including local foods, clean energy and energy conservation, and waste reduction. Erin Lucas and Mateo Mackbee, owners/chefs of Model Citizen Restaurant, taught students the important of local foods. Tom McDougall, retired engineer, architect, and former President of the Weidt Group, presented “All Things Energy”, and Jay Baker from Kandiyohi County Recycling and Hazardous Waste quizzed students on how to identify hazardous waste and then educated them on how to properly recycle all types of waste.
Scott Glup, with the Litchfield Wetland Management District, led the Prairie Project, where he took students on a hike through some of the last remaining native prairie in Minnesota. Glup explained the importance of native prairie, why only 1% remains, and how they can be restored. He showed students a section of land that he is currently restoring and gave students prairie seeds, that he had collected, to spread over the area.
The students also had the opportunity to do a 40 foot high rope element called “the flying squirrel”, which is always a student favorite! The “squirrel” (student) is pulled into the air by a belay team (another group of students). The squirrel chooses to go slow, medium, or fast, and if they want to swing! This challenge course activity teaches students to work as a team, conquer fears by trying something new, and to find enjoyment from lifting others up!
During lunch, Taylor Templer, West Central YES! Coordinator, surprised the group with a waste-less lunch competition. Students had to put all lunch waste into their team’s designated bins so it could be weighed and divided by the number of students on the team. This year’s winner of a $50 Visa gift card was Springfield! Right after lunch, Sydney Bauer gave an entertaining and enlightening talk on how building relationships is key to getting sustainability projects done!
Overall, the day was full of excitement! The students left charged up to meet the challenge of finding solutions to today’s ecological challenges in their own communities!