Our instructors have a wide range of experience in the field. Each field instructor is Wilderness First Responder certified and has been on group and personal wilderness trips across the country and the world.
Other certifications that different staff members hold include: Wilderness EMT, Firearm Safety Instructor Certification, Wolf Ridge Naturalist, CPR/First Aid Instructor, Swiftwater Rescue Certified.
Jason Jech, Executive Director
I want to welcome you all to the Red Wing Environmental Learning Center. I began with the ELC as a 12-year-old taking programs with instructors Bruce Ause, Mark Gordon, and others. As I progressed through the program, I took anything and everything. Eventually, I became an Instructor Naturalist. This was my opportunity to give back to a program that had given me so much. When I went to college, I thought back on what things meant the most to me, and my time at the ELC was it. So I went to UW Stevens Point for one year and then transfered to Northland College, where I received my BS in Outdoor Education with an emphasis in Recreation and Leisure. Upon graduation, I was fortunate enough to be hired by the ELC as a Field Instructor, in 1998 I became the Program Director, and in 2000 Executive Director. During this time, I also received my Masters Degree in Education Administration from Mankato State. I thoroughly enjoy being outdoors with ELC students or my family doing anything and everything. I encourage all young people to get out and explore our natural world. Consider at least trying the various programs that we have to offer, and if you have any ideas, compliments or constructive suggestions, I welcome hearing from you. As Arctic Explorer, Col. Norman Vaughan would say- "Dream Big and Dare to Fail."
Chad Nelson, Field Instructor
Growing up in the small town of Hanover, MN, Chad Nelson now lives with his family on a hobby farm in Wisconsin. Spending time hunting, fishing, camping, water skiing, and knee boarding as a kid, Chad learned the explorer’s lingo and developed his affinity toward the outdoors. At the University of Minnesota – Duluth, he majored in psychology and philosophy. He worked with at-risk youth in the woods for six years. Throughout the years, he traveled to New Zealand, Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, and Mexico. Chad and his wife Amy took their honeymoon on a month-long backpacking trip in Canada. In 1997, the Nelsons were drawn to Red Wing where Chad worked at Deer View Day treatment for two years and created a mentorship program for at-risk youth. Then, it all began. In 1999, Chad became a full-time ELC instructor. Now, with three children of his own, Chad and his family go paddling, fishing, hiking rivers, and playing on the lakeshore. “They were sleeping in quinzees when they were two.”
Chad has worked with kids for a living and he believes, “The biggest thing is to see young kids out in nature. First they are trying and failing. Then they learn, succeed, and teach others. Confidence strengthening, team building, and attitude improvement is a huge impact on that kid, and it exponentially affects kids across the community.” In ELC, you are “always challenged by something new and different by whatever you are doing. It’s never dull. If you don’t like it you change it. We have the freedom and flexibility to be creative and go where we want.”
Brad Nagel, Field Instructor
Brad Nagel was born in Red Wing way back before the ELC existed. As a young, adventurous, energetic boy, he jumped into the ELC program in its young years, the late 1970’s. He latched on to the paddling and kayaking programs, and decided to pursue a degree in Outdoor Education at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. He embraced the major by doing the majority of his studying in the comfort of his canoe at 5am with a fishing pole in his hands. The summer of 1988 was spent in North Carolina working for the Nantahala Outdoor Center as a whitewater paddling instructor and a raft guide. Then, he moved on to instruct at Camp Woodson in North Carolina, spending time in the woods with kids who were failing in mainstream programming. In 1994, he started the Lake City Environmental Learning Program. In addition to this life-long outdoor lifestyle, this humble man says of his experience “Been killin’ and skinnin’ dead things for a long time. Been rained on a lot. Seen a lot of beautiful sunsets. It’s good.” After so many years at this career, Brad says “I love watching kids grow in the woods because it’s such a great place to learn about themselves. They mature so well…and learn how to interact with others and the natural surroundings.”
Laura Wildenborg, Field Instructor
Another Red Wing local, Laura Wildenborg grew up participating in the ELC. The ELC experience was so formative and rewarding that she barely took a hiatus from it. She left her senior sea kayaking expedition in Prince William Sound, AK and went to the Boundary Waters with Collegebound, a program for incoming first-years at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University. She spent four years studying Environmental Studies with some time learning about sustainability in Sweden, Spanish in Guatemala, and sea turtles in Costa Rica. During the summers, she worked (played) as the Summer Director at the Lake City ELP. After college, Wolf Ridge ELC called her to live on the north shore for a year. The challenging whitewater of the Chattooga River in South Carolina drew her to be a raft guide for three summers. Now, she’s back to where it all started.
Laura Schmidt, Office Manager
Laura hails from the north shore of Duluth, Minnesota. With her high tolerance for cold weather, she totally embraces the outdoors in all seasons. Growing up she enjoyed her summers at her grandparent’s resort in Ely, cliff jumping and fishing on the outskirts of the BWCA. Skiing was an all seasons’ sport, skimming across the open water at the lake in the summer and racing down the snowy hills in the winter. Laura did downhill ski racing through high school and college and you can still find her on the slopes of Welch. After living in Fargo for twelve years and managing a café, Laura, her husband, and two sons moved to Red Wing. With her degree in business administration with a concentration on small business management from UMD, Laura is now our Office Manager. If you are signing up for programs, have a question, or stop in to say hello, you are most often interacting with Laura Schmidt. She believes that the ELC is mainly about, “Getting kids enthusiastic about playing outdoors.” As you can tell, she herself is out and about, biking, skiing, playing racquetball, or exploring with her family.