Westonka students make annual Wolf Ridge trip

By Lorrie Ham Laker Correspondent

In what has become a long-standing tradition at Westonka, fourth-graders throughout the district made the annual spring trip to Wolf Ridge in May. Shirley Hills students visited Wolf Ridge on May 14 through 18, while Hilltop fourth-graders made the trip May 21-25.

"The Shirley Hills fourth-graders had an outstanding week at Wolf Ridge," said Shirley Hills Principal Ann Swanson. "They had beautiful weather, learned about nature, and built life-long memories."

In contrast, the Hilltop fourth-graders experienced lots of rain the next week.

"It was a rainy trip this year, but that didn’t stop them from having loads of fun," said Hilltop Principal Nancy Benz. "They still went canoeing, climbed the rock wall, visited the swamp, made dreamcatchers, and took on the challenge of the rope course."

A bit of history was honored during Hilltop’s trip, when Tom Osborn, Doug Hage, and Beth Harstad were awarded Years of Service Plaques at Wolf Ridge. Osborn and Hage received the 30+ Years of Service plaque and Harstad received the 20+ Years of Service plaque.

It was 33 years ago when Hage and Osborn approached the principal of Hilltop, Wayne Smith, to discuss the first ever trip to Camp Isabella (now Wolf Ridge) in Finland, Minn. From there, the rest is history. Hage has attended over 50 trips to Wolf Ridge, between going with Hilltop Primary School, Shirley Hills Primary School, and the Westonka Summer Program. Osborn has attended over 33 trips with the Hilltop Primary program and the Westonka Summer Program. And Harstad has attended over 20 Wolf Ridge trips.

Osborn and Hage were the first brainstormers of how to fund the program for children. This is how the Wolf Ridge fundraisers started and have continued through the years. Over 3,000 Hilltop students have attended Wolf Ridge over the years and continue to discuss the program at various graduation speeches.

"This always makes our teachers involved in the program smile – how Wolf Ridge has impacted the lives of children," said Benz.

Osborn and Hage retired and the program was then handed down to the fourth-grade teachers; Harstad became one of the coordinators over the past 12 years.

"We are so proud of our staff at Hilltop (retired and current) for the hours and hours that they put into Wolf Ridge," said Benz. "In fact, Mr. Hage has spent almost one year of his life at Wolf Ridge."

Wolf Ridge is a nationally respected and accredited K-12 school and residential learning center. The educational activities immerse participants in nature exploration, cultural history, outdoor skills, team-building, and personal growth.