Tom Koshiol’s passion for the outdoors and ingraining such in young people hasn’t appeared to dim since he was honored by Field & Stream magazine as one of its “Heroes of Conservation” in March 2011. Koshiol earned the monthly honor primarily for the development of his group, the Crow River Trail Guards. Said Koshiol at the time: “It’s about instilling a good outdoor ethic more than saving the whole Crow River. That’s how you save it — by encouraging youth that are going to take care of it for the future.”
Koshiol, 62, a heating and cooling technician/master plumber from Paynesville, Minn., recently talked in an e-mail interview about how the award fueled the group, which still is vital. The interview has been edited and condensed for length.
Did the recognition as a Hero of Conservation have any immediate effect on your life?
It was a great validation of my longtime efforts to connect kids to the outdoors and provide outdoor opportunities for personal growth and connection. Being acknowledged in a nationally circulated and highly respected magazine brought a new level of recognition and praise that went straight to my heart, and inspired me to continue to move the Trail Guards organization higher. And it was very important to me that the award money ($500) was meant to be for me, personally — not to be applied to the work of my organization. I used the money as a down payment on a quality Trek road bike, appreciate the gift every time I get on and pedal, and become inspired all over again.
How has the Crow River Trail Guards evolved or changed in the years since?
Personally, the award was an acknowledgment of the legitimacy and relevance of the organization and my mission, and I think others may have felt that, as well. It has certainly been a factor in the evolution of our board, supporters and donor base. We are governed by a diverse group of incredible people — folks with a vast array of connections, and each with very special individual skills. There is no one on our board who doesn’t bring something unique and beneficial to our organization, and they know they are involved with a program that has gotten local, state and national recognition. The Heroes of Conservation award, as well as others, helped fuel and energize us — and me, personally — as we’ve continued to move forward.
Any notable current projects?
We just finished mounting a historic school bell donated by childhood friends in memory of their father. It’s beautiful on top of a custom-built tower with a bronze interpretive plaque. But the real beauty is in the way a large cross-section of the community came together for various stages of the three-year project. It connected folks to each other, to our organization, to the kids who maintain our [Crow River Nature Park], and to a wonderful natural area that promotes stewardship, appreciation, and love of the outdoors.
Any other state nonprofits or groups that you admire that also work to engage young people in the outdoors?
The Minnesota DNR MinnAqua Program, St. Paul (nationally recognized statewide youth aquatic education and fishing program); Two Wheel View, St. Paul and Calgary, Alberta (international and domestic bicycle expeditions); Wild River Academy, Minneapolis (interpretive canoe trips); Les Voyageurs, St. Cloud (extended Canadian wilderness leadership canoe trips); REI Outreach (great youth equipment and other programs); YMCA Camp Menogyn (various extended wilderness outings); Outward Bound, Ely (incredible programs); Camp Mishawaka, Grand Rapids (some of our best trip leaders have been Camp Mishawaka alumni).
What’s a personal favorite trip or activity in Minnesota?
Our annual Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness trip is hard to beat, and not just because it’s always incredibly enjoyable. Preserving the Boundary Waters has been a tough battle, but a battle well worth fighting. From logging to motor use to reclassifying as a county recreation area to cellphone towers to copper/nickel mines, the area is under constant assault. Make no mistake about it — once it’s gone, it’s gone. Once it’s compromised, it will never be the same. And there is nowhere else in the world like it. We purposely don’t treat our drinking water on our trips for a reason (no filters, no tablets, no boiling). We have confidence in our judgment, and take all of our drinking and cooking water directly from the lakes (in the proper place, in the proper manner), because where else can you do that. What a great connection and memory for the kids involved. We want those kids to grow up fighting for the protection of not just the BWCAW, but of all our natural resources and outdoor treasures. They are much less likely to care as adults if they don’t fall in love with it at a young age, and our annual BWCA trip is a huge step in that direction. Besides all that, a Boundary Waters trip is a longtime personal favorite of mine for all the reasons you read and hear about from anyone who has gone there. I’ve completed over 60 overnight wilderness trips there, and can’t wait to go again. I’m very fortunate to have a passion that is so accessible, affordable, close by, and for now, still intact.