Wilderness Field Station provides base camp for Boundary Waters courses

Since 1961, the Wilderness Field Station in northern Minnesota has provided Cornell students with a spectacular nature-based classroom. Academic departments ranging from biology to English to politics now take advantage of the field station during first block each year as part of the annual Cornell Wilderness Term.

Students in Canoes
Students investigate a beaver dam during an extended outing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Cornell Wilderness Term provides an exceptional outdoor classroom to student from varied disciplines each September.

Each course embarks on a canoe journey into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, one of North America’s most pristine locations. The setting provides a perfect outdoor laboratory for courses in biology. Ecology courses have tested a model for predicting tree diversity on the BWCA’s many islands; Plant Morphology students investigate carnivorous plants native to the area; and Entomology students study aquatic insects in waters with minimal impact from humans.

But the wilderness also provides a rare opportunity for reflection and insight in a number of non-science courses, including Wilderness Politics, American Nature Writers, Environmental Ethics, and Modern American Literature: Encountering the Wilderness in Literature and the Visual Arts.

“The Wilderness Term was the most exciting course/experience I’ve had at Cornell and I can’t rave about it enough,” says English Professor Leslie Hankins.

“Wilderness Politics inspired me to become more active in environmental preservation,” says Maggie Ruddick. As an AmeriCorps volunteer, she used resources from the course to help teach youth in Idaho about the importance of environmental laws and conservation efforts.

Ruddick’s recalls a memorable 5:00 a.m campground encounter with a family of moose on a remote island during Wilderness Politics:

“We respected their space because it was the moose’s home, and they respected us as well. This moment put the course and the canoe trip into perspective for me. The Wilderness Act was created to protect these and other species who call the Boundary Waters home. This exchange between moose and man will always be remembered when I evaluate my role in this world.”