Weather Forecast


ELC sets roots at historic Hi-Park Dairy

Red Wing Environmental Learning Center has purchased and is in the process of renovating the old Hi-Park Dairy barn and barn house (pictured above) to serve as its new permanent headquarters. (Republican Eagle photos by Amanda Greenwood)1 / 2
The old kitchen space of the Hi-Park Dairy barn house is being transformed into a welcoming classroom and meeting space with new paint, paneling, windows and lighting. ELC Executive Director Jason Jech said that he wants the space to be informal and comfortable for students attending classes and presenting during trip “wrap ups.” 2 / 2

Red Wing Environmental Learning Center has made the move from the Anderson Center to 442 Guernsey Lane, and the non-profit organization has kicked off its first-ever capital campaign to aid in “celebrating our past, building for the future.”

ELC Executive Director Jason Jech said that the goal is to raise $400,000 to help with the costs of buying of the former Hi-Park Dairy barn from the Red Wing Public Schools and renovating it.

The purchase made in November 2013 includes approximately 3.56 acres plus the barn and adjoining home.

All donations are tax deductible and will go toward the purchase of the property, renovation work, building a storage shed and boosting the endowment for long term sustainability.

According to Jech, the ELC is the oldest year-round environmental learning center in the state.

The capital campaign brochure states, “We will be able to properly house our canoes, kayaks and vans for the first time. Also, owning our own building will save us money within just a few years. All of which means we can maintain our rich history of being the best in outdoor programming.”

And with the close proximity to Red Wing High School and Twin Bluff Middle School, as well as high visibility from Highway 58, Jech said “this location made sense.”

He highlighted that the purchase fits the organization’s goals of increasing:

•access for students,

•visibility within the community,

•diversity of students,

•impact of finances,

•expansion of equipment.

ELC Board member Tracy Gadient has been helping Jech guide the transformation from the Hi-Park Dairy barn and home areas into the new center. To date, many volunteers have put in more than 750-plus hours. Gadient Brother Construction, Ryan Mechanical, Pomerleau Electric and Sylvander Heating are the primary contractors.

Jech said that the theme is to “keep it simple.”

“We’re an organization that aims to get the students out into the woods, not stuck inside. We do not need a huge space, to be tied to a building,” he said.

Near-future plans include adding signage on Highway 58 as well as on Guernsey Lane, as the barn is tucked off the road a short distance.

With the purchase, the ELC has become “first-time homeowners,” as the organization has rented its current location for the past 23 years. Prior to that, the ELC operated out of the Friedrich Civic Center.

Jech remembers previous locations, growing up in the program and attending classes at the Friedrich Civic Center.

“We then moved out to the Anderson Center about the same time I started working for the ELC,” he said.

The giving tree

Along with a map room, office spaces, upstairs and downstairs classrooms, the site will host a “donor wall,” which Jech said will be in the shape of an oak tree.

The trunk and branches will be created out of old wood boards found throughout the barn and barn home, and the donors’ names will be stamped on a leather piece from the Red Wing Shoe Co. in the shape of a leaf.

“We wanted to incorporate pieces of the space and the Shoe Company in a unique way that highlights our donors,” Jech said.

Red Wing Shoe has been the ELC’s main fiscal agent, according to Jech, dating back 44 years to the organization’s start.

The details...

What: Red Wing Environmental Learning Center capital campaign

When: Donations are being accepted now. An open house is planned from noon to 4 p.m. May 31.

Why: Renovate the former Hi-Park Daily

How : Volunteer or donate. Pledge forms will be available at or at the ELC office.

Phone: 651-388-7339

The history of the ELC

The rich natural surroundings prompted LaVerne Grasmoen to float the idea of creating an environmental education center here in 1970. She had attended a conference where she heard about another community doing something similar.

Marge Vogel spearheaded a task force, which determined that the Mississippi River, Lake Pepin, Frontenac State Park, Cannon River bottoms, Minnesota Hardwood Forest and surrounding limestone bluffs created unlimited opportunities for outdoor education.

Vogel was instrumental in conceptualizing and materializing the program with the help of the first ELC director, Bruce Ause, and Dr. Dan Mjolsness, Red Wing Public Schools superintendent at the time.

According to Jech, Vogel approached the Red Wing Shoe for funding. The company agreed to a “trial run” of five years, and the funding of the Shoe Company has been vital to the program ever since.

Over the last 44 years, the program has evolved by what Jech called its environmental education formula found in its book “I Do and I Understand,” published in 1984.

The book’s title derives from the Chinese proverb: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

The program’s founding formula includes: local resource people, local resources, develop skills, continuity, direct involvement, enjoyment, challenges, purpose, quality versus quantity, natural history and ecology, rotational programming, flexibility.

The year-round programming explores and celebrates local resources as well as opens opportunities beyond southeastern Minnesota.

ELC trips have included canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, rock climbing on the North Shore of Lake Superior, backpacking in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, sea kayaking around the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior, white water rafting in the Grand Canyon and climbing up Mount Rainier in Washington state.

The history of the dairy

In 1920, the Hallquists moved to Red Wing and began their family creamery business out of Hi-Park farm. According to a taped interview between Nicholas Vrooman and Cletus Hallquist on Dec. 5, 1984, Cletus’ father, Oscar, was a “Cooperative Creamery man,” president of the cooperative, before starting his own business.

Drawn to the Red Wing area, Oscar left the cooperative board and began securing milk accounts with local businesses, starting with the St. James Hotel and including the Red Wing Shoe Co.

In the interview, Cletus explained how he brought Hi-Park Dairy milk into the shoe factory and, in fact, delivered it seven days a week himself to workers starting around 1935.

“There was a distinct odor all the time around there that made my eyes water, and the tar would do that, you know — that type of thing — so, ah, it was hot in there. I would be soaked to the skin when I’d go through there because they had a fan on a couple of windows. What good does that do in a hot summer day, you know? But that was par,” Cletus told Vrooman.

In his early 20s at the time, Cletus’ philosophy to outshine the other dairies at the shoe factory was personal service and a familiar face, “Never say, ‘Why don’t you quit buying from that guy and buy from me,’” he said.

The Hi-Park Dairy milk was a nice, rich yellow color produced by Guernsey cows. The dairy delivered the milk to local businesses and factories by horse-drawn wagon until 1936. Hi-Park Dairy began pasteurizing that same year and delivering by truck. The dairy grew under the Hallquist family until 1968.

“We owned 300, roughly 320 acres, on the south side of Red Wing, which is Pioneer Road area and up to (Highway) 58, where the vocational school is and some land east of the highway,” said Cletus.

The area included the property now owned by Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical and Hallquist Avenue.

Cletus and his brother, Oswald, bought the family business in 1953, following Oscar’s death. The two operated the dairy until 1968 when Oswald suffered a fatal heart attack.

When asked in 1984 if he saw potential for growth in Red Wing, Cletus responded, “I’m convinced; yeah, I’m convinced. The town has a big future.”