Forestry Camp: Then and Now

Practical and Memorable

What do the words “field session” or “forestry camp” bring up for you? Readers who are alumni might think of a particular image or memory because almost every student graduating from the University of Minnesota’s forestry programs has completed field courses at either the Itasca Biological Station or Cloquet Forestry Center, or in many cases, both. As the student, E.A. Foster remembers, “The Experiment Station offers wonderful opportunities for studying forestry in the field, and the practical knowledge gained through days of contact with acres, chains, stands, types, sites and growth is far more lasting and of greater value than that gained from lectures and study courses” (Gopher Peavey, 1928).

Graduates of forestry camp know that these experiences have more than just academic and practical value. While they have shifted in location, timing, and content over time, field training has remained an important milestone in the memories and friendships of many alumni. “It is still a place where lifelong friendships are formed and where foresters will get their first inspiration for service. Many weighty questions will still be settled in the sessions around the fireplace. The memories of the summer will still live in the hearts of Minnesota foresters” (T. Schantz-Hansen, Gopher Peavey, 1948).

Students in their cabin at the Cloquet Forestry Center, circa the 1960s.Changes over time

The Department of Forest Resources offers multiple three-week field sessions at the Cloquet Forestry Center and a 10-day session at the Hubachek Wilderness Research Center, but until 2002, field sessions took place at the Itasca Biological Station and at the Cloquet Forestry Center. Five-week introductory sessions, formerly known as the Freshman Corporation, took place at the Itasca Biological Station for students in the summer between their freshman and sophomore year. The curriculum covered mensuration, silviculture, forest ecology, botany, and was later expanded to include entomology, ornithology, forest soils, and forest recreation. 1909 marked the first year that forestry students received field instruction at the Itasca Biological Station, and 1924 was the start of field instruction at the Cloquet Forestry Center. By the late 1930s, enrollment in the School of Forestry had grown to over 500 students, requiring the advanced forestry camp, or “Junior Corporation,” to be split between the Cloquet Forestry Center and the Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Cass Lake. The Junior Corporation was a 10-week session, typically held at Cloquet, in the spring quarter of students’ junior year. Students spent between three and ten days on subject areas including wildlife, forest engineering, recreation, forest policy, silviculture, forest management, and inventory.
Today, students take forest ecology, forest measurements, and plant and tree identification courses at the Cloquet Forestry Center. Depending on their academic emphasis area, they also complete a three-week advanced session in silviculture, remote sensing, and timber harvesting and road planning. A student at the Cloquet Forestry Center in 2014, practices using a hypsometer to measure tree height.

Emeritus Professor and Head and graduate of 1964, Alan Ek, notes how the field courses have changed over time. “Computer and internet technologies and new tools have evolved to assist observation and analysis. That has been very helpful. At the same time, excess student attention to electronic devices has at times hindered their actual looking at and seeing the trees and forest and survey design situation. Consequently, the instructor needs to emphasize looking, seeing and understanding!” Ek remembers that field instruction sometimes included physical labor. “Students built a bridge over Otter Creek and thinned a pine stand with hand tools.” In the 1960 Gopher Peavey, a student recalls “The last few weeks of the session included work in the Forestry Club’s plantation, a day on stream measurement work, a work on lumber grading and treating of posts and lumber, recreation projects (academic I mean) and plant identification (with TSI work sandwiched in)” (Bob Bodine, Gopher Peavey, 1960).

The first classes of forestry students were all men, and it was in 1932 that the first woman, Dorothea Cathill, graduated from the University of Minnesota’s undergraduate forestry program, followed by Alice Stewart, graduate of 1933. The forestry class continued to be all male throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s. From 1968 to 1970 there was a single female graduate in each year. In 1971, there were two female graduates. In 2018, exactly half of the graduates were women.


With each class, traditions, jokes, memories and nicknames are created. In their evenings at Itasca and Cloquet, students from past years enjoyed campfires, singing, fishing, and ball games, with weekends spent in nearby towns. In the mornings, they took on the tradition of jumping in Lake Itasca before breakfast. “Obeying the unwritten law of the foresters that each man take a plunge in the drink every morning, we rushed shivering in the crisp cold air to dive into historic Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi” (Clyde Peick, Gopher Peavey, 1920). In early forestry camps, an annual event to mark the end of their studies was the “Burial of the Quiz,” a ceremony in which reports written during the session were compiled and buried. A tradition that has lasted through current field sessions is the annual forestry competition, held at the introductory Cloquet Field Session. Students compete in a variety of activities, including tug-of-war, plant identification, and a traverse, judged by accuracy.

Students observing insect collections at the Itasca Biological Station, circa the 1960s.

Invariably in their recollections from the Gopher Peaveys, students recalled the intensity of the work, with daily reports due. George Seaburg, class of 1929, went so far as to express his feelings about his field studies by writing a poem.
Excerpt from “Description of Courses, As a Student Sees It”
by George Seaburg, ‘29:

It takes gobs of perspiration
For to learn of Mensuration
And the fundamental principles of curves;
And to put a tree on paper,
Not forgetting form and tape
Is a task that’s very trying on the nerves. 

Besides students’ “perspiration,” many resources went into making field courses happen. Instructors committed to several weeks of instruction away from their homes and families. Long-time field session instructor and graduate of 1969, Phil Splett, remembers the staff at the Itasca Biological Station and the Cloquet Forestry Center. “They were extremely helpful and made so much difference. I owe so much to them. I was always so impressed with the students. They were so hardworking. I say thank you to all the students who made it a great session. I always felt I was blessed that I had the opportunity to teach field sessions.”
If you completed forestry camp at Cloquet or Itasca, we hope you’ll share your memories.
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