As the letter writer said: “You don’t know where a canoe trip will end up.” You also don’t know how a feature story will ripple out.
A Star Tribune story in the Outdoors Weekend section Jan. 27 has prompted numerous responses from readers who have fond memories of visiting Dorothy Molter on Knife Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The story commemorated the 30th anniversary of the memorial snowmobile ride honoring her Boundary Waters legend. The event led to the preservation of her legacy through the Dorothy Molter Museum in Ely.
Art Erickson is co-founder of Urban Ventures in Minneapolis and director of StudiOne-Eighty, an organization for training community development leaders. For decades, he has taken inner city youth on canoe trips into the BWCA where they visited Molter. In a recent letter and phone conversation, he spoke of the long-term impact she had on others and the importance of wilderness experiences.
Erickson said those adventures were the first time many of the young people had gotten out of their neighborhoods. But Molter was warm and welcoming, and they loved her. “When we came, it just was phenomenal because she, of course, did her ‘Dorothy thing.’ ”
Molter taught them the function of the little shacks outside her cabin known as outhouses. She showed them her vats of root beer and quenched their thirst. She learned their names and listened to their stories.
Urban Ventures refers to its trips into the BWCA as “stress camping.” The physical stress of outdoor activities also is designed to help young people grow mentally and emotionally. Erickson said group leaders would push campers hard. The trips got them out of their environment and into a bigger world than where they lived. They did things they weren’t used to doing like carrying and paddling canoes long distances, and coping with bugs and bears.
“I want kids to confront themselves and to reach their limits, and then find that they have to pull something out of themselves that they didn’t know they had and begin to put their lives together,” Erickson said.
Though many kids came from gang turf and bad situations, he said they’re doing good things today. Erickson still keeps in touch with many of them, now adults. Some have gone to college, become scientists, photographers and counselors in the prison system.
Mark-Peter Lundquist participated in several of those trips when he was younger. He said Molter endeared herself to everyone and they looked forward to seeing her every time. He also noted that the value of stress camping isn’t always obvious until years or even decades later. After reading Molter’s story in the Star Tribune, he e-mailed Erickson to express his gratitude. An edited excerpt is below:
“Those trips inspired me to guide my own trips with kids for 10 years. Having to canoe the entire length of Knife Lake, facing a stiff wind, 600-rod portages and sudden storms catching you in the middle of a lake were teachable moments about not giving up but persevering. They’re lessons that have guided me through tumultuous waters.”
Scott Stowell is a freelance writer and photographer from Ely. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.