I Can, You Can, We All Can!

Tent in forest.

By Kate Carnahan, Outdoor Recreation Specialist Individual Placement / AmeriCorps Member placed at Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Trails


A camp site
Campsite for the week at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park.

Over the past couple of weeks, a new summer crew has started with CCMI to be instructors for the MN DNR’s “I Can” programs. The goal of these programs is to teach outdoor skills like camping or paddling to entry-level participants to help them feel more comfortable when recreating outside. The programs run weekly all over the state, with our CCMI crew leading and educating those who sign up. But before this happens, they must also be taught these valuable wilderness skills and lucky for me, I was invited to come along!

The first week of training started in Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, where we began with learning how to pitch a tent, cook yummy food on a camp stove, and build fires. I kid you not, some of the best meals I’ve ever had were made on this trip over a Coleman propane stove. Meals ranged from BLTs to breakfast burritos, and hotdogs were incorporated into meals I never would’ve thought to include them in. As the week went on, many a s’more were eaten and lessons in outdoor leadership, how to face adversity, and safety protocols were learned by the crew, each night ending in a circle around the warm campfire.

Someone holding a tiny turtle
Adorable baby snapping turtle found by one of our new crew members, Macy.

After the first week of training, the second half began: I Can Paddle! This program was a little bit trickier, as the MN DNR offers lessons in canoeing, kayaking, sea kayaking, and delve how each form of paddling changes when on a river versus a lake. The crew camped up in St. Croix State Park, where we were immediately swarmed by mosquitos (talk about adversity), and tick checks became an hourly practice (unfortunately, most did not make it through this trip unscathed). We took to the lakes and specifically, the St. Croix River, for the next few days, learning about the structure of the watercrafts, different paddling strokes, and focusing on endurance for long days of paddling. Due to being on the water, the safety measures the crew will have to take will be different as well, since reaction times could be delayed when trying to cut through rough waters rather than when on land. We ended the official training with a s’more’s competition, with the winners creating a Girl Scout Carmel Delite infused s’more, topped with toasted coconut, and presented beautifully on a paper plate.

Since starting, the crew has been able to connect and understand each other. They all have shown their excellence at leading, intelligence of nature, and eagerness to learn. They will make a great team this year and I’m looking forward to working with them over these next few months. If you want to meet them too, sign up for our programs on the MN DNR website! We look forward to seeing you!

Inside a cave
Wall features found in Mystery Cave during a tour.
Tent in forest.
Tent used for “How to Build a Tent” demonstration by new crew members.
forest from above.
View from the top of the fire tower at St. Croix State Park built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937.