Conservation Center makes good use of summer

Hikers and birders are a fixture at Long Lake Conservation Center, which remains open in a limited capacity in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s not exactly a normal summer at the Long Lake Conservation Center in Palisade.

Normally, the first round of campers would be in for the 2020 Youth Summer Camps, and small groups would also be reserving time at the various buildings at LLCC.

COVID-19 has put a stop to most activity at the center for now, but education director Courtney Dowell and maintenance coordinator Anthony Miller are working toward a possible August reopening.

In the meantime, both Dowell and Miller have other projects occupying their time.

Dowell said that after a spring full of “constant decisions,” programs were cancelled.

“We still do have reservations and programs on the calendar from August onward,” Dowell said, pointing out that safety is at the forefront for staff and guests. “That could all change if we receive guidance.”

Now, however, LLCC is shifting toward online learning.

“It is a different tone of summer for us,” Dowell said. “It’s a much quieter campus than we usually have.”

LLCC followed CDC guidelines and postponed school trips in April and May, but shifted education on those topics online. Under the distance learning tab on the center’s website (, there are six lessons for teachers to use in lesson plans.

“Teachers who were kind of thrown into the new distance learning had some resources to fall back on,” said Dowell, adding that the content is still available online.

The center’s website has also recently added hands-on tutorial videos that feature, for instance, how to make a solar still for clean drinking water, or how to make do-it-yourself suet for birds.

“The idea behind that is to give some inspiration to get out in nature,” Dowell said. “So you can still appreciate it, explore and stay safe.”

Miller, meanwhile, has been tackling a number of different clean-up projects at the center, including removing the bases from the old Challenge Cooperation Course, which has a new site at the center.

“Some of the foundations for those challenges were still out in the woods,” Miller said. “From that project to just simple things like cleaning up the underbrush around campus, cleaning up trails, interior maintenance, addressing other little things.”

He explained that since there are no campers on site, it is easier to tackle a project to completion.

“You don’t have to run around and wonder where the kids are at,” Anthony said.

And, of course, LLCC remains open to hikers and birders.

Trail maps and hours can be accessed online, and a portable outhouse was placed on the property this last week since the buildings remain closed.

“We’ve been seeing hikers and birders come out,” Dowell said.

While the trails remain open for free, Dowell said donations to the Long Lake Conservation Foundation are welcome – either at the main office or using the online donation button.

Aitkin County Land Commissioner Rich Courtemanche said that in spite of the issues that the pandemic has caused, he sees plenty of activity at LLCC.

Amongst other highlights, the center’s broadband is online now, and the center also has products on site to complete the wood sheds where wood for the furnaces will be kept.

“Long Lake has so much to offer,” he said. “I’m so excited about that facility.”

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