This past weekend, a small group of local teens and young adults gathered to ice fish at Half Moon Landing, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service boat landing on the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge near Kellogg. While a dozen or so local anglers spread out on the ice to claim their fishing holes, a camera crew followed the group of kids as they drilled holes, baited hooks and sat on five-gallon buckets waiting patiently for a tug on their lines. The group was participating in a documentary film project being coordinated by Project Get Outdoors (Project GO), a Wabasha-based non-profit organization.
Since 2005, Project GO has been working to connect low-income kids and children of color to the outdoors in an effort to foster healthy development and environmental stewardship. Beginning as an after-school program for migrant Latino youth and low-income children in the Plainview community, within a few years Project GO expanded into five counties in southeast Minnesota and has since collaborated with community organizations across the state, reaching more than 10,000 children through after school and summer outreach programs.
Project GO Founder Sara Holger never imagined the program would have such an impact. “When we started out in Plainview, the goal was to make sure the local Latino youth had access to the same opportunities as the other local kids who were in 4-H, FFA and scouting. Most of the kids we worked with had never fished or camped before. They had never been to Whitewater State Park or the Upper Mississippi River National Refuge. We wanted to provide opportunities for these kids to have intimate and meaningful experiences in nature.”
For 15 years, Project GO has worked diligently on an average annual operating budget of less than $10,000, building partnerships and sharing the message about the critical role nature plays in human development. “We are part of nature,” Holger says. “We’ve evolved over the ages as part of nature. Only in the last few decades, since the advent of air conditioning and television, have we separated ourselves from the natural world. We need the sun on our skin, the soil between our fingers, the phytoncides the trees emit into the air … These are not just romantic notions of the outdoors, these are evolutionary mechanisms our bodies rely on to be healthy.” Several hundred studies prove nature is essential to human health and wellness; physically, mentally and spiritually.
In addition to free training, activity supplies and equipment lending, Project GO plans to add the Legend Hunters film to their toolbox for empowering communities to get kids outdoors.
The film will introduce middle and high school youth across Minnesota to the concept of public lands, the kinds of public lands we have in our state, and to the hidden stories behind these locations. As Holger explains, “It is hard to care about a place when you can’t see yourself in that space. If we want people to care about these places, in addition to getting kids out there exploring and creating experiences in nature, we also need to uncover and share the many varied stories of our public lands and the many different people who are a part of these places.”
The young people involved in the project are former participants from the Plainview Project GO program. They will be the film narrators and hosts, guiding viewers on a discovery of the inter-connected stories of the parks, trails, forests, refuges and preserves in our area. The Half Moon Landing site, for example, was an important site for the early logging industry that pushed millions of logs through that location in the late 1800s. Other stories span from the American Indian history of the area; the Dakota; early explorers and settlers; the struggling immigrants who worked the logging camps, rode the log rafts, harvested the river ice and laid the railroad tracks of Minnesota; the freed slaves who worked on the steamboats; the laborers who built the locks and dams; the African American CCC enrollees who worked on stream bank erosion projects in segregated camps; the German POWs encamped at Whitewater State Park; the migrant workers putting peas and corn on our tables; and the Hmong and Somali refugees who’ve found resilience and hope among the quiet natural spaces of Minnesota’s outdoors.
Holger has teamed up with Hlee Lee and her company, the other media group, out of St. Paul, Minn., to tell this visual story. Hlee values diverse storytelling saying, “Everyone has their own story and their own journey, and those who are not from the dominant culture rarely get their stories told by the mainstream media.” She is a recognized voice for social justice in the Twin Cities and is part of the producing team for the Counter Stories podcast heard on Minnesota Public Radio.
The film is expected to wrap up late 2021 and be available on YouTube for Minnesota educators to use in time for spring semester next year. Teacher workshops and on-line training will be available to help teachers incorporate the film into their classroom teaching and couple it with projects that require students to explore outdoors. The project has received funding from the St. Charles Community Foundation, Bob and Judy Sloan Foundation, Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation and public donations. Project GO is still fundraising and seeking area musicians and artists for the project. Find out more at www.mnprojectgo.org or contact email@example.com.