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Eagle Bluff celebrates 25th anniversary

Fri, Oct 3rd, 2003
Posted in Features

Joe Deden recalls plowing out the long drive way at Eagle Bluff one winter day more than 20 years ago, only to run out of diesel fuel midway through the task. He cross country skied down to his nearest neighbor, John Horihans place in the valley, with two five gallon cans, borrowed the fuel and skied back. It was that determination and can do attitude, first demonstrated by Deden, and then by others who have come to share his vision, that has served Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center so well over the years. So well in fact, that Eagle Bluff will be celebrating its 25th anniversary on October 11. The event will feature a dinner prepared by chef Laura Thompson, a small silent auction, music by the Dave OMara jazz trio and Jack Pichotta, founder of Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center will speak. The facility will be open at 4:00 p.m. for tours, rock climbing, archery and a raptor program.Deden, who founded Eagle Bluff as the Root River Hardwood Forest Interpretive Center as a center for landowner education in 1978, credits staff, board members and the community for making the environmental learning center the success it is today.To give you an idea how far Eagle Bluff has come, in 1982 Eagle Bluff served 300 participants through adult education seminars in the basement of the current directors residence, with Deden the lone staff member. This last year, working with an operating budget of approximately $2 million, Deden and his 35 staff served 22,000 visitors to their campus. Shiitake MushroomsIn 1983, the Root River Hardwood Forest Interpretive Centers name was changed to the Southeastern Minnesota Forest Resource Center. It was about this time that the center also started a demonstration project in woody agriculture growing shiitake mushrooms. Over time, the center would have over 10,000 logs monitoring 30 different varieties of shiitake on 10 hardwood species. While Eagle Bluff still maintains a shiitake mushroom project today, the scale of production has been downsized. In 1992, the John Schroeder Renewable Resources Building opened and the center began providing day-use programming for students. By 1997, construction on dormitories, classrooms and a dining hall would be completed. It was then, that the centers name was changed to Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, one of five such facilities in the state of Minnesota. The transition from adult education, to day-program, to residential learning center has been a natural progression for Deden and his group of professionals. Students visiting Eagle Bluff today are exposed to rope courses, climbing walls and hiking trails and take classes in a variety of environmental subjects. Trained naturalists and educators work with school teachers to ensure that curriculum needs are met.Our program is fresh, current and in compliance of graduation standards, Deden said, noting that Eagle Bluff is accredited as a special functions school.Deden says that his average visitor is a 4-8 grader and Eagle Bluff offers a heavy dose of natural science not easily taught in a classroom.Deden writes in a brochure highlighting the 25th Anniversary: Students are much more environmentally aware but lack a connection to the land, common sense, and hands-on experience. This makes the experiential stay at Eagle Bluff so much more meaningful. Young adults constantly stop by who had their first taste of environmental education here and who are now graduating from college with environmentally related careers.The FutureEagle Bluff is not content with the successes they have achieved to date. Deden is convening a group of interested volunteers in December to look at the next 10 years for Eagle Bluff. When I worked for Tuohy Furniture, I learned from Mike Tuohy that you have to have a three year, five year and ten year plan, Deden said. Eagle Bluffs future interests might include forays into sustainable agriculture and alternative energy. The center already has three wind monitors on the Midwest Wireless Cellphone Tower in Fountain and is beginning to monitor water quality in the area, looking at the impact from different types of agricultural practices.Deden says that the present economy and tight school budgets have increased the number of applications for scholarships this year. Despite this, participation remains high. Ninety percent of Eagle Bluffs funding comes through fees for services, with another 10% coming through private grants and fundraising. Deden is proud of the fact that the center does not rely on public funds for its operating budget.In addition to the student based residential program, Eagle Bluff will continue to serve adults through specialized educational opportunities. Over the next several months, dinner-speakers will talk on a range of topics that include sustainable community development, alternative energy options for southeastern Minnesota, and life on the Mississippi River, just to mention a few.In the early years of Eagle Bluff resources were thin and few imagined that the environmental learning center north of Lanesboro would grow into the facility it is today. Vision, hard work, and broad public support for environmental education has made the difference.For more information about Eagle Bluffs 25th Anniversary Celebration call 507-467-4206

John Torgrimson can be reached at editor@fillmorecountyjournal.com.

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