News & Resources

Summer Sees Construction Wrap up on Teaching Shelters

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Nov 20, 2015

Prior to taking over Au Sable’s environmental education program I had spent 2 years working for the North Cascades Institute in Washington State.   North Cascades Institute is located at the base of the cascade crest, which meant that we literally worked and taught in a rain forest.  Wet weather brought about inherent challenges in keeping the children warm and all of our teaching materials dry.  Aside from perpetually wrapping everything in plastic (students included), the Institute designed a trail system that included strategic placement of a handful of shelters along the pathway allowing for respite from the elements.  These teaching shelters did more than provide cover from the wind and rain, they also provided a familiar setting for learning and the fort-like qualities generated a unique excitement in the children.  As a result, despite the wet cold conditions, we were able to deliver remarkable learning programs, which provided the children with positive outdoor experiences when often the situation presented significant challenges to anything outdoors affirming.

Upon returning to Au Sable, I quickly recognized the potential for us to create a similar system on our grounds.  I began dreaming up a shelter system that would make the best use of Au Sable’s unique natural features and allow us to maximize outdoor time with student groups.  With plenty of planning help from Institute staff and financial support from the Worthington Family Foundation we brought the idea to fruition this past summer as we completed construction on five teaching shelters, a bird blind, and two new trails.

We are excited for the opportunities these teaching shelters will provide and the new experiences that await participants.  We would like to thank Jim Jewell Construction and Will Rowland of Log Home Specialists for their help advising and constructing the shelters.  Gerry Cook for his inspiration for the design of the shelters, which he created for North Cascades National Park and which serve as the baseplate for Au Sable’s shelters. Thanks also to United Way of Northern Michigan’s Day of Caring and ITW of Kalkaska for their generous help laboring in cold rainy conditions to complete work on the beaver pond and bird trails.  And thanks as well to everyone else who helped in any way small or large, through prayer, manual labor, or through financial support of the program.  We couldn’t have done it without you!  We are excited to move forward educating and inspiring local students and future interns in new and exciting ways.