Weather Forecast


Progress: Get out there and explore

Pictured are the Environmental Learning Center Office Manager Laura Schmidt (left) and her husband Paul Schmidt. (Republican Eagle photos by Amanda Greenwood) 1 / 5
Paul Schmidt demonstrates the art of tying an Elk Hair Caddis Fly at the Environmental Learning Center. Schmidt said that the caddis fly tying does not take as long as others, such as the Atlantic Salmon Fly, which can take up to several days due to its complexity and unique materials. 2 / 5
1. Schmidt begins tying his Elk Hair Caddis Fly by selecting a hook size and then using a technique called “tying in” to wrap the hook with copper wire. A material called dubbing is then wrapped around the wired hook to create the appearance of the caddis fly body. Schmidt noted that trout can be finicky, so creating a life-like fly is critical to a successful fishing day. 3 / 5
2. Schmidt then uses the tying in technique to attach the hackle (made of chicken feathers), which he first measured specifically to fit his hook size. The hackle gives the fly both buoyancy (allowing it to float on the water like a Caddis fly) as well as a life-like appearance of an insect’s segmented body. After being tied in, the hackle and surrounding wire are then trimmed.4 / 5
3. Before tying in the elk hair, Schmidt first brushes the hair down and uses a stacker to align the many strands. The elk hair is tied in with multiple turns around the hook at different heights. 5 / 5

The Red Wing Environmental Learning Center was recommended to Paul and Laura Schmidt as new residents, and the couple — along with their two sons — have been involved with the non-profit organization ever since.

The Schmidt family relocated to Red Wing when sons Nolan and Nathan were in eighth- and sixth-grade respectively. Now 18 and 15, the boys are looking forward to a North Carolina whitewater kayaking trip during spring break.

The trip is part of the ELC’s Kayaking III class, which is preceded by Kayaking I and II. Both Nolan and Nathan have completed the classes in preparation for their upcoming trip.

“The classes have built on one another,” Laura Schmidt said.

Both she and her husband said they enjoy the “wrap up” aspect of each ELC trip, where students are able to share highlights and lessons.

“You can really see the teamwork developed,” Paul Schmidt said, highlighting that students need to rely on one another for planning, packing and preparing meals during such trips.

Paul has taught the ELC’s fishing rod building class in the past and has also participated in adult classes.

Laura is the daily voice of the ELC; as office manager, she answers incoming calls and greets new and familiar faces. She began working at the ELC 2 1/2 years ago and enjoys the “life changing” experiences the organization offers.

“Students learn public speaking, leadership, group dynamics,” Laura said.

Popular summer classes include sea and whitewater kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing and bike touring classes. Cross country skiing and ice climbing have been full classes during the winter months.

She also highlighted that the ELC is fully equipped for all programs offered so that students do not have to find or bring any gear. Financial assistance also is available for its programs by calling 651-388-7339 or emailing

Starting in third grade, students can participate in educational classes through the Young Explorers Program, which runs through fifth grade.

Entry level, core and elective classes are available to middle and high school students as well as adults. As with the Kayaking III class, some classes have prerequisites.

According to Paul, a tradition dating back to the very first year of the ELC is the senior expedition. Going on 44 years, it has a set of prerequisites of its own.

“Their junior year, students that have gone through the program (meeting a certain number of class hours and demonstrating a high level of leadership), can apply to be a Junior Instructor,” Laura said. “Junior instructors volunteer their time, are first-aid trained and are then ‘second in the woods.’”

These students then plan an expedition during their senior year, the “crème-de-la-crème” of the organization, according to Paul.

Along with its office location, the ELC utilizes two cabins, located in Hay Creek and Two Harbors, Minnesota. Neither has electricity or running water, providing true “great outdoor” experiences for its visiting classes.

Each of the ELC’s instructors is a certified wilderness first responder. Collectively, the group has wilderness trip experience not just locally but also around the globe.

“The ELC provides experiences that we would not be able to give as parents,” Laura said in regard to the skillful field instructors.

Staff members include Executive Director Jason Jech, Chad Nelson, Brad Nagel and Laura Wildenborg.

Program registration and field instructor biographies can be found at