The Red Wing ELC is an outdoor youth education program that encourages ways to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors.
The Red Wing Environmental Learning Center adheres to an old Chinese proverb that goes: I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand. We believe very strongly that students learn best through hands on experiences. For over 40 years the ELC has been inspiring and educating the community of the Red Wing Area. Ben Swarts a former student wrote: "My time with the Red Wing Environmental Learning Center (ELC) is not over, though I have not participated in a program in over four years. I say my time is not over because it is a relationship that will never end. The ELC affected my life in so many ways it is difficult to squeeze into such a small space. I was actually forced to join ELC when I was in 6th grade; my mother felt that it would play to my strengths, and at the time I was a shut in. I used to go home after school, hole up in my room with a snack and a good book, and read until supper. The ELC opened me up to the outside world, one that was full of amazing times with friends and other participants. My first program was Intro to Kayaking, and it rained the whole day. While we never went further than a couple miles from the launch point at a riverside park, we explored places and did things that I had never experienced before. Not only had I never been outside in the rain for three hours straight, I had never had a carp jump directly over the bow of my boat. I had never even been in a Kayak before, much less paddled one on the great Mississippi River. I got home that day, took a hot shower, and then thought about everything that had happened that afternoon. Despite the steady rain and sodden clothes that bunched up rather uncomfortably, it was one of the best afternoons of my life up to that point. I made many friends, some of whom I saw through the years at school or in other ELC programs. I have since graduated college with a four-year-degree in English and a Minor in Environmental Studies. You can bet that the ELC affected my decision in where to go for education; I ended up in the middle of the north woods in Bemidji, Minnesota. I chose this place because it had enough wilderness that was accessible to be able to continue the lifestyle that I built with the help of the ELC. The skills that I learned through the ELC I will carry with me forever. They may change with the times, or as I learn new techniques that suit my needs better, but one thing will never change: these are the memories I built during my time with the ELC. I have paddled under waterfalls in Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Park, I have slept on nothing but the hard ground during the night, and seen the Minnesota Boundary Waters from incredible vistas during the day. I have landed trophy Northern Pike from a Canoe. I have seen the wilderness of the world, and the human impact upon it, all the while leaving the smallest impact possible from my own passing. These memories and skills I owe to the Environmental Learning Center. I can’t imagine how my life would have turned out without the ELC’s influence on it. The richness that was added to my life that rainy day in 6th grade, the facets shown to me over the next several years of participation, and the friendships that I made, not only with my peers, but with the instructors and mentors as well, has without a doubt made me the confident, complete individual I am today." Each student involved in the ELC leaves with a greater understand and appreciation of the outdoors, their fellow participants and themselves.