MCC conservation students receive hands-on wilderness experience

Paddling down a small river in the BWCAW Photo: Allison Nodurft

In Northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Seven Muscatine Community College (MCC) conservation students spent a week in Northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), learning about ecology, plants, habitat and animals of the north woods. The unique area is located in the northern third of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota.

  • Home Sweet Home… Photo: Allison Nodurft
  • Canoes parked at one of the campsites for the night. Photo: Allison Nodurft
  • Paddling down a small river in the BWCAW Photo: Allison Nodurft
  • Wilderness Experience Students taking a break at Curtain Falls in the BWCAW. Photo by Colin Shirk
  • Wilderness Experience students learning about the plants and animals of the BWCAW. Photo: Allison Nodurft
  • An island in the BWCAW Photo: Jacob Wilbourne
  • Students looking out over Lac La Croix in the BWCAW Photo: Allison Nodurft
  • Preparing breakfast by campfire….Photo: Allison Nodurft
  • Students canoe through a northern bog in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness ….Photo: Allison Nodurft

Over 1 million acres in size, it extends nearly 150 miles along the International Boundary adjacent to Voyageurs National Park and Canada’s Quetico and La Verendrye Provincial Parks. The BWCAW contains more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 12 hiking trails and more than 2,000 designated campsites with no roads, buildings or motorized vehicles. The area was set aside in 1926 to preserve its primitive character and made a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964 with subsequent legislation in 1978.

Led by Brian Ritter, Executive Director of Nahant Marsh and the Program Director for the college’s Conservation program, the students traveled 55 miles by canoe and portage through the waters and forest, learning valuable survival skills such as camping, traveling and living in the outdoors with minimal impact.

“We got to escape to reality for a week and learn about a natural ecosystem that has remained largely intact,” said Ritter.

Working as a team, the group of students experienced the beauty and power of nature through exploring waterfalls, sleeping under the stars, swimming, fishing and identifying plant and animal species, all while following the BWCAW’s guidelines of “leave no trace.” 

“When we went on a walk to identify plant and animal species my list came to 51 plants and 35 animals,” said student Jake Shoppa.

“The biodiversity is astounding, and that was just a little chunk we looked at that day. The trip has truly been the trip of a lifetime, and I know I will sleep a little sounder knowing that places like the BWCAW exist,” he said.

MCC’s Conservation Program provides a solid foundation with classes in areas such as environmental science, fisheries and wildlife ecology, and local flora. Students receive hands-on training throughout the program including classes at Nahant Marsh Education Center, a 305-acre nature preserve on the Mississippi River, as well as wilderness and employment experiences during the summer. For more information on the program, visit Toll-free 1-888-336-3907, email

Author: alaneastern

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