Rest – Recharge – Retreat

walking across bridge

by Karissa Vetsch, Youth Outdoors Crew Member/ AmeriCorps Member


A few weeks ago, Youth Outdoors crews reached the halfway point of their service term. To acknowledge that feat and celebrate the crews, there was a Mid-Year Retreat at Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton, Minnesota. All full-term, Youth Outdoor crews (about 20 Conservation Corps Members) drove up to Carlton, MN to enjoy two nights and three days of relaxing up north.

A rocky River
Jay Cooke State Park with it’s famous slanted rocks.


To start off the Mid-Year Retreat, most crews made a crucial stop at Tobies Restaurant and Bakery in Hinkley for a sweet treat. Afterward, it was up to each crew to pick up their groceries for camp. Each crew was given a budget, tent, camping stove, and cookware to use while on this retreat.

After arriving at Jay Cooke State Park, we adjusted our plans and decided to complete one scheduled programming tasks while it was raining outside. Huddled in a Picnic Shelter around a fireplace, the 20 crew members were broken up into random groups and asked to discuss how our term had been going so far. After talking amongst ourselves we presented our notes to the larger group. Our Assistant Program Director, Tess Kelly, took notes on our feedback.

I found this activity extremely helpful to debrief our time so far and offer feedback, which was readily accepted. I enjoyed learning more about what other crews had been up to and getting ideas to implement within my own crew. We got to raise questions while also offering potential solutions and hear each other’s thoughts. After our task, we went back to the group campsite to set up tents and prep for dinner. I forgot how delicious eating a warm dinner after a rainy day is.

The rain settled down after dinner and a few went off on a hike to check out the park. Later that evening around a campfire, s’mores supplies were brought out and card games were started. Even though all the Youth Outdoor Crews work out of the same St. Paul shop, it was fun to see everyone in a different element and get to know each other better. We tested out a new type of marshmallow (Stuffed Puffs: chocolate-filled marshmallows) and laughing was heard well into the night.

walking across bridge
A few Corps Members walking across the Swinging Bridge at Jay Cooke State Park.

After a brisk but nice night of rest, each crew got decide when to wake up and start their own breakfast. My crew enjoyed pancakes, fruit, sausage, and coffee. You could fill your time however you wished, but two of the most popular activities were a day trip into Duluth or going canoeing. I hadn’t canoed since last summer and decided to go canoeing. Once the canoes were driven to the reservoir, we did a quick paddling overview and got life jackets. We portaged the canoes down the path and got into the windy water. I found it to be quite a challenge at first to canoe into such strong wind, but we finally got the hang of it. It was a peaceful and beautiful ride. After canoeing, we headed back to the group campsite. Some decided to go into Duluth now themselves, others went hiking. I set up my hammock and relaxed with a good book. Wednesday was a relaxing day with nice dry weather. We ate dinner later that evening and more games around the fire followed.

Front of Canoe in water
Beautiful green views from our Canoe.

The Last day at the campsite we had to be packed up by 9 a.m., so many were up cooking and cleaning with an earlier start to our day. After cleaning up our campsite each crew could decide if they wanted to stay and hike and explore or go back to St. Paul and unload. My crew decided to drive back after packing up and get an earlier start to our weekend. It was a fun relaxing retreat, but we were all ready for our own beds. Jay Cooke State Park was a great retreat location. It has beautiful scenery, is close to Duluth, and was a great way to explore up north since we are all based out of the Twin Cities.

I really appreciated having a mid-point retreat to look forward to and the chance to debrief our term so far. Playing games and going on hikes was a nice way to continue to get to know my fellow Youth Outdoor Crews and spend time in nature outside of work. Our short-term Youth Outdoor Crews also had a mid-year gathering to look forward to. They had a picnic and played some yard games at a local park. Acknowledging our hard work so far and getting a chance to recharge was greatly appreciated. I can’t wait to get to our end-of-year retreat, but it will be bittersweet to have the service term end. Until then, I will be enjoying the work we get to do outside.