‘Life-changing’ work experience out in the Wisconsin woods

Crex Meadows Youth Conservation Camp offers employment readiness for troubled youth in an outdoor setting

Finding out what’s on the inside . . . by taking it outside.

Since 1996, that’s been the focus of the Crex Meadows Youth Conservation Camp, operated by the Northwest Wisconsin Concentrated Employment Program (CEP).

Every summer, starting in June, this work experience camp educates teens on the importance of the outdoors. After two weeks, teens leave the program with an understanding of environmental stewardship and conservation, high school credits, and a paycheck—along with employment readiness, or even career direction.

Part of what makes this camp unique is the students we serve. We work with a lot of students with disabilities, at-risk students who are struggling, foster-care kids, troubled youth,” says Josh Kinneman, the Crex Meadows Youth Conservation Camp director.

“For some campers, this is an eye-opening experience, in the sense that they’ve never had a job or experienced the daily ‘adulting’ routine that is part of it,” he adds. “This camp is life-changing for them. It’s welcoming. For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve felt safe. And it’s rewarding work, with important takeaways.”

Northwest Wisconsin CEP provides workforce solutions in 10 rural counties of northwest Wisconsin, providing training and educational opportunities for low-income adults and displaced workers, and the Crex Meadows Youth Conservation Camp is key to its support of disadvantaged youth.

While based in the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, in Grantsburg, WI, campers aged 14 through 20 will:

  • Attend environmental education classes, earning high-school credits for their diploma;
  • Take part in fishing, hiking, canoeing, horseback riding and camping activities; and
  • Help the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with conservation work in the wildlife area, for which they’ll be paid minimum wage for 40 hours a week.

This work includes goose banding and fish hatchery maintenance, fence removal and prairie restoration, native seed harvesting, invasive species removal, boardwalk construction and trail maintenance.

Camp costs are covered for the 80 low-income teens, thanks to Northwest Wisconsin CEP’s multiple funding sources—including federal, state and foundation grants and private donations.

Enbridge is committed to making life better in the communities near our operations and projects, including the nearby Line 3 Replacement Project. In 2017, we invested about $218,000 in community-strengthening initiatives in Wisconsin, and our recent $4,800 donation to Northwest Wisconsin CEP will fund youth camp operations.

“From last year’s group, we had some students who focused on environmental education at high school, and one who is heading to Northland College here in Ashland for environmental studies,” says Kinneman.

“At the same time, we had a few students who went directly into the workforce. We focus on team building, outdoor education and smart work principles—and we seem to get results.”