2022 Women’s Forest Congress Camp Ripley Tour
By Candra Burns

People who identify as women within the forest community have been creating an in-person congress for two years, culminating in a four-day event in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our scheduled events revolved around common goals of coming together and marching towards a better future of equity and inclusion. I was excited to be a workshop speaker in my presentation “Empowering Communication Techniques to Reach Diverse Audiences.” I discussed the value of representation and diversity when communicating forestry issues. The room was full of bright people who listened to the solutions I provided, like learning how to communicate their diverse perspectives through modern podcasting and social media techniques—work to which our industry is finally catching on. I learned as a consultant that some forest industry organizations do not have budgets for communications and marketing, and I communicated the importance of making room for this work. Word of mouth, websites, and snail mail are not the future; we should be creating these modern jobs and contract positions to provide another pathway for those who want to communicate about the forest community. These should be paid positions within organizations or open-for-contract opportunities, not just given to a staff member who knows how to use technology.

After the presentation, I toured Camp Ripley, where we learned about its unique conservation practices. Our lovely tour guides were Emilee Nelson from The Conservation Fund and Kayli Overland from The Nature Conservancy. The tour group was only ten people, so it was an excellent chance to listen and learn more about a smaller national guard base’s role in our forest community. Most military installations across the US have conserved some of our last remaining prairies and endangered species, which used to be owned by an industrial forest company. They are now protected and open to the public. Forestview Middle School uses parts of the forest as an outdoor classroom yearly. The Department of Defense partnered with state, local, and nonprofits to protect the lands and has funneled over $40 million to preserve the buffer area around Camp Ripley. Private landowners also protect their lands to enforce the mission of Camp Ripley. The building we visited on base was the Martin J. Skoglund Environmental Classroom. Inside, preserved animals surrounded us; I saw hundreds of birds on the wall, and I started to identify them. We listened to Jake Kitzman, Camp Ripley natural resources manager, and Katie Retka, Minnesota Department of Military Affairs senior planner, talk about how the base is state-owned property primarily operated for military training with a robust conservation program. There are over 30,000 acres of conservation easements surrounding the 53,000-acre installation.

We then went out to the City of Baxter Mississippi Overlook and heard from Josh Doty, the community development director of the City of Baxter and Kent Montgomery; Kimberly Scheffler; and Megan Tritz of Central Lakes College. We had lunch by the river and listened to the Baxter parks, and trails plan, its vision being, “Mississippi River Overlook Park will provide high-quality, non-motorized recreational and educational amenities while preserving and restoring high biodiversity forests, wetlands, and riparian areas.” This area is considered a sentinel landscape. The US Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, and Department of the Interior define sentinel landscapes as areas in which natural and working lands are well-suited to protect defense facilities from land use that is incompatible with the military’s mission. A planned project in the area is the Camp Ripley Veterans State Trail, which would go directly through the middle of the conserved property areas. I wanted to recreate in the area, knowing it is now public and beautiful in the fall especially. We walked through some of the trails in the overlook area, and the trees were colorful under the fall landscape. We were all happy to be out on this tour after three days within our congress hotel location.

Candra Burns is the founder of Talking Forests, LLC.

A hike full of Minnesota fall colors on a trail at Camp Ripley.

Inside the Camp Ripley Martin J. Skoglund Environmental Classroom, where hundreds of preserved species are used for conservation education.

Jake Kitzman, Camp Ripley natural resources manager, and Katie Retka, Minnesota Department of Military Affairs senior planner, talk about military training and conservation at the base.