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Youth programs at Camp Rabideau

In addition to discussions about the restoration projects at Camp Rabideau during an open house June 9, there was also information given to the public about the youth work programs taking place at the camp.

In 2005, a feasibility study was done to see if the youth was interested in educational opportunities at Camp Rabideau. And if there was an interest, the study looked to see if it would conflict with other camps that offered similar programs.

"It was found that youth were interested in an education conservation opportunity," explained Ann Long-Voelkner, the outdoor recreation planner with the Forest Service. "Parental involvement was also an interest, so we applied for a grant from the Blandin Foundation. That grant enabled the Conservation Academy and Learning Center board to be established to oversee programming and to establish vision and to bring youth programming into a conservation education setting."

There are several grants the camp has received and is still in the works of receiving for a variety of educational and restoration purposes.

Mark Anderson, who works with a crew of young individuals at the camp, explained that his group were recruits from the Blackduck, Cass Lake and Bemidji area.

"What we're doing fits with the CCC theme," Anderson said. "We're about education. We're taking young people who have dropped out or are not enrolled in school at this time and getting them back into education. The kids come out here and work to stabilize the camp's buildings. They've tarped the roofs, removed interior walls that were not original, repaired plumbing fixtures that were not of historical significance to a particular building."

The grant to bring Anderson's 14-member crew to Rabideau is from a Juvenile Justice Grant.

"That sounds scary, I'm sure," he said. "The majority of the kids we're working with had truancy issues. We're not dealing with hard criminals, we're dealing with young people who did not go to school and wound up dropping out."

Anderson explained that attendance is usually around 10-12 students each day, with three staff members also present.

"We have three staff -- myself as the supervisor, a social worker and a paraprofessional bus driver who provides transportation for the students," he said. "The student-to-staff ratio is very workable. Our goal is to give these kids a good experience. I want them to be happy, healthy and productive citizens in their communities. I want them to be prompt, prepared, participate and be positive. If we can get them to do those four things, they can be good employees."

Audience member Barb Campbell asked, "Do the kids go through an application process? Do they fill out some forms? Do they have interviews? What is the criteria? Are they submitted to drug testing?"

"The application process is handled by Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program. The kids have to have involvement in the juvenile justice system, must be 16-21 years old and yes, they are submitted to drug testing," Anderson said.

"With something of this magnitude taking place in my backyard, how come those of us who live around weren't told what this program was going to consist of?" Campbell asked. "When surveys were done, what areas were given the surveys?"

"Focus groups of kids from the three main areas (Blackduck, Bemidji and Cass Lake) were brought in to see if there was an interest in this type of work," Long-Voelkner said.

"Is there a follow-up type program established to follow up on the students who finished the program to see if they continued their education or if they just fell back into whatever it was that brought them to the justice system?" Campbell asked.

"We don't specifically track them," Anderson said. "But there are other aspects of the grant that allows the student to work with a career advisor and a social worker to resolve any issues and overcome barriers they may have. Rural Minnesota CEP also does some tracking to see if the kids reach some goals."

Aside from working out at the camp, the youth who Anderson works with, also attend schooling during the week to help them work towards a General Education Degree or high school diploma. His program runs September-June.

"When the students of Anderson's program first started, we asked them all what they wanted to do with their lives." said Mary Nipp, a Forest Service volunteer and who has a lot of involvement with Camp Rabideau. "Most of them just shrugged their shoulders. At the end of the program, we had the kids up at the Forest Service and Greg (Morris) asked each of them individually what they wanted to do when their time at the camp was up. Every one of them had either a career goal or hopes to go to college in mind. In the time they were at the camp, they learned enough to progress and know they could go out in the public and be well rounded people."

Campbell also asked if there was an advisory board and if so, how do people in the area become representatives on that board?

Long-Voelkner explained that was the purpose of the CALC board, to act as an advisory committee. She said at the current time, there were no members from the public of the people that live in the area represented on the board.

"If there is interest, that would be wonderful if someone would be interested in volunteering for it," she said.

"I would ask that as a community, it would be up to you folks to figure out who would be representing," Forest Service District Ranger Greg Morris said.

Rural Minnesota CEP representative and youth career advisor through Beltrami County, Chad Rebischke, is in his third summer of bringing another youth crew out to Camp Rabideau.

His program, which is very similar to the one Anderson works with, also has specific guidelines. The kids are ages 14-17, they have to be enrolled in school, live in Beltrami County and be considered in the 200 percent of poverty.

"This year, the summer work program will be 12 weeks long and they will be paid minimum wage," Rebischke said.

Rebischke's crew works the camp's gardens, buildings and other projects designated by the Forest Service. There are three-four supervisors to oversee the crew of roughly 20 kids.

Several audience members questioned whether the kids would ever stay at the camp overnight.

"Not for my program," Rebischke said.

"Right now there are no plans to have the kids spend the night," Morris said. "I'm not saying we wouldn't occasionally have people spend the night, but that isn't part of the program.

"I don't have an issue with either program," resident Scott Burns said. "If you want to help people, that is great. But last year, you lost a student or two who wandered off."

Burns also stated he heard talk of students who were using drugs while on site and asked what was being done about those safety concerns.

Morris said that Burns' comment was the first he had heard of anyone using drugs. Rebischke followed up saying there was an issue, however, it was dealt with and the individual was immediately removed from the crew.

"We operate the programs out here under a special use permit," Morris explained. "It allows us to use the site for jobs and education, which in my mind, we're staying in the integrity of that."

"If there is a special use permit in place, there was never any notification in the paper," said Al Hentges. "I do believe that if a special use permit is in place, you have to allow for a 60 day comment period in the paper. Is there a special use permit?"

"Yes, there is," Morris said.

"I was told back in 1997, that any special use permit for this camp had to have a 60 or 90 day comment period in the paper," Hentges argued.

"The paper, to my knowledge, was not notified," Morris said.

"Well, there was a mistake made there because the public has input on that," Hentges said.

"Please understand that we're not obligated for all special use permits that we put out to notify the public," said Morris.

"But this belongs to the people of the United States and this is a national treasure," Hentges said. "I specifically asked people in the Forest Service and I was told there was no special use permit given," Hentges said.

"I don't know who you asked but that person was wrong," Morris said.

Hentges went on to say that because the permit was already given out, he would like to see the camp open to the public.

"What if another entity wants to use the camp?" he asked. "Will they be automatically denied?"

Morris explained that the camp is open daily to the public. And if other programs do want to use the camp, they are welcome to, depending on what else is going on during a particular day.

"I can see that gap getting tighter and tighter," Hentges said. "I would like to see this open to other entities."

Another audience member stated that she knew for a fact that the Boy Scouts as well as other groups have and do use the camp.

"For those worried that the public won't be welcomed for tours because of other programs, that won't happen," said Andrea LeVasseur an archeologist with the Forest Service. "There will be buildings kept as interpretive buildings where we can bring people in and give them tours. There will also be areas kept aside for programs and activities. Tours and program activities will not disrupt one another."

(Next week will feature a story about the current summer work program at Camp Rabideau)