Contact us Monday through Friday 8:00am CST to 4:00pm CST at 715-327-4402

Sharp-tailed grouse dance in the Namekagon Barrens

Is She Looking:

Sharp-tailed Grouse dance in the Namekagon Barrens

By Ian Karl, Northwest Passage Experiential Programming Coordinator

Sharp-Tailed Grouse, with their mottled dusky feathers and signature short pointed tails, once populated a vast swath of North America. They could be seen from Alaska to New Mexico and they dominated the pine barrens of North Western Wisconsin. Through years of extreme habitat change, the population of Sharp-Tailed Grouse in Wisconsin was severely impacted. In recent years however, conservation efforts of organizations such as the Wisconsin Sharp-tailed Grouse Society and Friends of the Namekagon Barrens Wilderness Area (FNBWA) have begun to restore the population of these magnificent birds in their native habitat. Once a year, for a few short weeks, the males display their stunning purple and gold accented breeding plumage and perform a truly breathtaking dance in a courtship ritual to win the favor of the hens.

In late April Northwest Passage was presented with an unprecedented opportunity by the FNBWA for one of our residents to view and document this fleeting event to share with the world. Weston, one of our star photographers from Passage I, joined Seth Pearson, Northwest Passage Creative Arts Teacher, for a very early morning in one of the FNBWA’s viewing blinds “lek” (courtship dance location) in the pine barrens of the Namekagon River, part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, our region’s own National Park.

Northwest Passage extends its sincere gratitude to the Friends of the Namekagon Barrens Wilderness Area for this exceptional opportunity. As is evident from Weston’s comments, it is an experience that will not soon be forgotten.

20150428_055113_resized copy

A Reflection by Weston:

I’ve always heard and imagined how rare it is to see, let alone hear, a threatened species perform a mating dance, but now out of fortunate timing and lighting I have wonderful pictures, as well as memories, of sharp tailed grouse performing their mating dances. Even before leaving to go to the photography site I was concerned about how it would turn out….Will there be any?…If so, how many?…2, 6, 10?! My questions were answered. Seth (my photography counselor) and I departed at 4:50 am to beat the sunrise, get in the blind and set up before the sun would peak over the hilltops. We arrived punctually and as we silently opened our doors we could hear the early birds already starting to perform. We looked at each other knowing it was going to be a good day. As we walked in the area the birds took off and we set off towards the blind with our expectations peaked. We entered the blind, set up our cameras thinking that the grouse would return in fifteen minutes or so. But in less than a minute they started coming back and in less than four minutes they all came back and picked up where they left off.

There were over 35 grouse with bright gold eyebrows, beautiful purple necks, and they were all chirping. They sound they made was almost like a low gobble. When they would all dance, they slouched their necks, hold out their wings and stamp their feet repeatedly. But the weirdest thing was that between dances, they would all stop and the air would hush for a full ten seconds. Then they would continue. It’s a mystery I still don’t understand, but will remember for the rest of my life.

-Westin, age 16.

We Are All Territorial

We Are All Territorial



Which One, Which One!

Which One, Which One!

Is She Looking!

Is She Looking!

Natural Duel, Take No Mercy

Natural Duel, Take No Mercy

It Comes Down To Her Choice

It Comes Down To Her Choice

She's Mine!

She’s Mine!


An Interview with Sam Thayer

An Interview with Sam Thayer

By Ian Karl and Garrett with assistance from Holden,
Photographs by Weston and Dylan

The young men at Passage I spent an afternoon on the Ice Age Trail with best-selling author and national expert on wild edibles, Sam Thayer . The day with Sam was the third in a series of community member interviews Passage I is undertaking, to meet with outdoors experts from our region who are passionate about regional wild foods. Northwest Passage Program Coordinator, Ian Karl, worked with residents, Garrett and Holden, to conduct the interview.

Sam became interested in Wild Edibles at a very young age. He said that he grew up with a lot of siblings and food around the house wasn’t necessarily that abundant and his parents weren’t real interested in cooking. “Eating mostly cereal, I was always hungry and looking for something better to eat.” At four years old he got tired of it and decided to start taking matters in to his own hands. That is where his passion started. As, “necessity is the mother of invention;” the cards we are dealt in our youth, when properly played, can lead to successful careers. This was just the case for Sam. His childhood interests led to a hobby which led to years of research and study and ultimately authoring two of the most successful books on wild edible plants.

A group of our kids from Passage I had the privilege to spend some time with him on a beautiful spring day on the Ice Age Trail near Straight Lake State Park. When choosing our location for our hike I wondered if there would be anything for us to find. Sam later assured me: “I never worry about the location because there is always food in the woods.” As the warblers sang in the treetops and the sun filtered down through the newly emerged leaves, we set off in to the woods and discovered exactly how much food was out there just waiting to be found.

Garrett: How many plants have you investigated or identified?

Sam: Probably around 800

Garrett: What percent of plants out there are edible?

Sam: I’d say, roughly one-third have some edible part at some point in their growth.

Sam then talked with the group about the safety and risks of foraging wild foods. He tells us that in the 40 years he has been alive there have been only two documented cases of plants being misidentified by foragers and causing severe illness. “That seems like a pretty safe hobby to me” he says and takes a bite of wood nettle. Sam then adds that you should never eat a wild plant until you are absolutely certain of its proper identification. “You have to be as confident that you know that wild plant as you would be if you were picking up a banana in the grocery store and knowing it’s a banana…then it is safe to eat that particular plant.”

Garrett: How much, do you rely on wild foods for your diet…do you ever shop in stores?

Sam: I’m not a purist about it. I shop in stores plenty for my family and me. I probably eat about 50/50 store bought and wild foods. . Last year my wife and I harvested 83 gallons of Blueberries, however last year was exceptional blueberry year. When it comes to certain wild foods, though, it’s really important not to overharvest. Many people don’t realize that a small patch of wild leeks for example take many years to grow, but only a minute to dig up.

Garrett: What is your favorite wild plant to eat.

Sam: That’s a really hard question to answer. But I guess I would say, either wood nettle (which we ate today) or black locust blossoms. You can make all sorts of things out of black locust. Each year I make black locust ice cream for my daughter on her birthday…which happens to fall just about the right time for harvesting them.

Garrett: What is a cherished memory you have from your experiences foraging?

Sam: I have so many, it’s really hard to choose just one. But, one time when I was exploring near the south shore of Lake Superior I was walking back to a creek to trout fish. I walked in to an opening and saw over an acre of wild leeks on the ground in front of me. I was amazed.

Garrett: Are you going to pass your passion for wild foods on to your kids?

Sam: I already am. My kids don’t know that foraging in the woods isn’t “normal.” It’s just part of what we do as a family.

Garrett: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not foraging?

Sam: Woodworking, cooking, photography, hunting, and fishing …and looking for snakes (he says with a chuckle, since we had been looking for snakes behind rocks and under logs throughout our hike).

Garret: Is there a recipe that you would like to share with us?

Sam: I like to make soups because it’s ok to make mistakes with your recipes when making a soup. If I get enough leeks today I am going to make a simple soup of Morels, leeks, and wood nettle. I’ll steam the nettles to remove the stingers, then add butter and salt and pepper and cook the other ingredients with it in a vegetable broth.

The day proved to be nothing short of amazing. Our group (myself included) was captivated by the fascinating details that our eyes were opened to on our hike. Many thanks to Sam for his generosity and time. It was a day that will not soon be forgotten.

Sam grew up in in Wausau, WI. He later spent some years on the south shore of Lake Superior where he began writing his first book, Forager’s Harvest. He now lives near Birchwood, WI. More information on Sam Thayer, his books, and workshops can be found at

Westin “giraffe-ing” some delicious Basswood leaves

Westin “giraffe-ing” some delicious Basswood leaves

Sam explaining proper identification of Winter Cress

Sam explaining proper identification of Winter Cress

A spring peeper on a Big Leaf Aster, edible when the leaves are young.

A spring peeper on a Big Leaf Aster, edible when the leaves are young.

Edible Columbine Flower

Edible Columbine Flower

Sam explaining the importance of proper plant identification when foraging.

Sam explaining the importance of proper plant identification when foraging.

Dylan, enjoying the edible Columbine flower. Often mistakenly called Honeysuckle.

Dylan, enjoying the edible Columbine flower. Often mistakenly called Honeysuckle.

Sam Thayer telling our group about our first wild edible of the day. A wild mustard called Winter Cress.

Sam Thayer telling our group about our first wild edible of the day. A wild mustard called Winter Cress.

Help expand our programming with Kickstarter

Help expand our underwater photography programming by supporting our Kickstarter campaign today. To donate visit our project, Under the Surface.

Last summer, we did an experiment. After four years of being awed by the astonishing strength and artistry of the youth in our In a New Light therapeutic nature photography program, we decided to venture under the surface.  Funded by a National Park Service grant, our intrepid teens created a stunning and unprecedented collection of underwater photos of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.  But even more importantly, the water brought out a level of skill, passion, and resilience that blew everyone away.  The “New Light Under the Surface” experiment worked.

This year,  we need your help to expand the world’s first and only therapeutic underwater photography program to accomplish the following goals:

1.  Double the number of youth doing underwater photography by expanding our programming to the Northwest Passage girls’ facility.

2. Expand our expeditions to build image collections of our region’s beautiful lake ecosystems, including Lake Superior and its watershed.

3. Publish a hardcover coffee table book of images to share with the world.

We’d be honored if you’d join us in this mission.

Watch the video and learn more by visiting our project today!

Our kids win a stewardship award

A group of young men from Northwest Passage earned a Wisconsin Lake Stewardship Award for environmental commitment in their efforts to photograph the mysterious underwater world of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The awards are given annually in memory of Lowell Klessing, a Wisconsin scientist who embodied the spirit of Aldo Leopold, believing that key to conservation was a deep emotional connection with nature. Our young men forged a bond with nature that will never be broken among their cohort and will be shared for years to come. Thank you gentlemen, and congratulations!

“It makes me feel like I am in a different world and that I am just untouchable for the time being. I feel relaxed and spiritually with the world and my surroundings. I also feel that there is another power stronger than me and that’s Mother Nature.” Anthony, underwater explorer

The project, New Light Under the Surface, was a part of Northwest Passage’s In a New Light programming together with Northland College and the National Park Service’s Youth Partnership Program. The boys are receiving their award at the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership Convention in Stevens Point today. We are working to secure funding to make this project happen again this summer. You can help us today! Funding opportunities are available online at both our website and our Kickstarter campaign.

Learn more about it the kids and their adventure at or Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine‘s article.

Want to help make sure the project happens again? Consider funding our 2015 project at Kickstarter today!

For more information about the work we do with kids, check us out at

Thank you, Tropical Wings!

Well, the explorers have returned from their incredible journey – all the way from northwest Wisconsin to Costa Rica and back. In the following weeks, we’ll have lots to share…but while we’re sorting through 20,000 photographs, Renny and Ethan wanted to let the Tropical Wings Foundation know just how much this trip has meant to them.

Dear Tropical Wings,

My name is Renny and I’d like to take my time to thank you. I can’t thank you enough for funding this trip and giving me the opportunity to experience everything I did in Costa Rica. Exploring the jungle with a camera and taking magnificent boat rides… it was a dream.  Not only did I have the time of my life but in a way I found myself along the way,. Being able to have these life experiences changed my outlook on life. With this new knowledge I’ll be able to come home and continue on my path to a better life. Deep down I keep getting these feelings of true happiness and success, and it’s thanks to you guys. You have no idea how happy I am. Thank you all so much.

Renny Fons


Dear Tropical Wings,

I am extremely appreciative for the opportunity to come on this trip to Costa Rica. Down in Costa Rica we have seen abundant amount of migratory birds along with many species of animals that coexist with them. We have amazing pictures of both migratory and resident species such as toucans, crocodiles, and poisonous snakes. I can’t begin to express my extreme gratitude for getting the opportunity to go on this trip.  It is something I would never have had been able to go on without the help of you and your extreme generosity.
Thank you,
Ethan Reinhardt

Greetings from Costa Rica!

Funded through a generous grant from an organization called Tropical Wings, we’re taking two recent NWP graduates to Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica.
This project is part of a “sister park” initiative involving our awesome partners at the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, other national parks throughout the midwest and national parks in Costa Rica. The initiative centers on promoting conservation and awareness of our shared neotropical migratory birds: our winged friends that grace us with their presence half the year, and then spend the other half hanging out amongst the monkeys and palm trees in Central America.
Our mission is twofold: First, to capture beautiful photographs of “our” birds in their Costa Rican habitat, and second, to connect with Costa Rican youth through nature photography. So, while this trip is about telling the story of a shared conservation mission across international borders, it’s also about telling the story of shared humanity.
During the trip, we’ll be posting updates – so be sure to check back often!

Today we entered the rainforest. 

By way of a bumpy ride on a 15-passenger prop plane from San Jose, we landed this afternoon on an impossibly small dirt runway flanked by astonishingly unfamiliar forest.  Even more astonishing was the 97 degree heat index that greeted us–giving new meaning to the idea of a warm welcome, especially having departed from minus 40 wind chills just two days ago.  A very vintage Land Cruiser delivered us to our first night’s destination, a quaint open air bunglaow in the town of Drake, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, on the edge of Corcovado National Park.

Our young photographers, Ethan and Renny, wasted no time.  Within the first hour, simply sitting on the porch of the bungalow, they spotted three of our target migratory species:  A baltimore oriole, ruby-throated hummingbird, and indigo bunting.  The oriole kindly posed for some great photos.  Seeing “our” birds here for the first time, and having just completed the arduous journey ourselves, we were reminded of the power of the story we’re here to document. 

It’s already evident that one of this adventure’s biggest challenges will be to stay focused on the migratory species we’re here to photograph.  We are surrounded by so many charsimatic resident creatures!  In just the several hours of daylight we experienced so far in Drake, we saw macaws, toucans, monkeys, vultures, 3-foot lizards, and over a dozen little birds that we can’t even begin to identify.  Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula is already living up to the hype as one the most biodiverse locations on planet earth. 

After a brief swim in the ocean, and a supper of local Tico cuisine, we now sit back at the bungalow gearing up for the real adventure that begins tomorrow.  We’ll meet our guide and take a boat an hour down the coast to the wild and remote Sirena Station at Corcovado National Park, one of Costa Rica’s–and this planet’s–natural gems.  There, we’ll spend four days photographing the birds we followed south to this piece of paradise, united with them in our shared knowledge of north, now so profoundly distant. 

We are so grateful to Tropical Wings for making this adventure possible, and for the logistical support of the National Park Service, SINAC (Costa Rican Park Service), and Rotary International.  Stay tuned for more updates in the coming days!  

-Ben Thwaits


IMG_9048 IMG_9016

Filmmaking Project at Northwest Passage I

This past few months marked the beginning of a very fun new project at Northwest Passage I – filmmaking!

Eight boys worked as teams and individually to execute 8 amazing short films. There was no limit to their creativity; some boys chose to create fictional narratives while others chose to film more documentary style projects.

Spearheaded by staff member Ben Treichel and intern Abi Leveille, the results of their hard work are astonishing. In December, the InaNewLight Gallery held a film premier, where over 25 people came out to view the films.

Steve Ammend, NWP Co-Founder, talks with one of the young filmmakers after the showing.Ben Treichel speaks to the audience about the filmmaking project.Over 25 people, mostly staff members,  came to show their support for the boys' project

We’ll be releasing one new short film each week! The first film, “BINGO” by Alex is so fun – with impeccable comedic timing!

Northwest Passage Receives Grant from the Green Bay Packers Foundation



Mark Elliott (right) shaking hands with Mark Murphy, President and CEO of the Green Bay Packers

WEBSTER, Wisconsin: Northwest Passage has been awarded a grant from the Green Bay Packers Foundation to create a “therapeutic playscape” at their Webster residential treatment center.

Mark Elliott, Northwest Passage’s executive director comments, “the power of play is often an overlooked piece in children’s mental health, and here is a profound link between physical and emotional health. This playscape affords our kids the opportunity to discover their own creativity and imagination, while also promoting a healthy and active lifestyle.” Featuring a (more…)

It’s Magical, but it’s not Magic: Equine Assisted Interventions

Angela Frederickson, LCSW

by Angela Fredrickson, LCSW  |  Clinical Director

I have been inexplicably fascinated by horses for as long as I can remember. By the age of 13, I had pestered my parents (who did not have much of their own experience with horses) enough that they purchased me my very own horse. This has lead to a life in which I have always been in the presence of horses. My horses have helped to lift me out of despair and have been the source of great joy for me. They have been with me at every turn and they have inspired my career path.

I first witnessed horses helping humans in a planned and deliberate manner when I was 16 years old. I had the opportunity to observe a therapeutic riding session in which a tiny, vulnerable looking little girl was lifted from her wheelchair and onto the back of a horse. (more…)

Northwest Passage and Healthy Burnett kick off Mental Health Rally Week

Each year millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition. During the first full week of October, NAMI and participants across the country are bringing awareness to mental illness. Each year we fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for equal care. Each year, the movement grows stronger.

We believe that these issues are important to address year round, but highlighting these issues during Mental Illness Awareness Week provides a time for people to come together and display the passion and strength of those working to improve the lives of the tens of millions of Americans affected by mental illness. (


For the past two years, Northwest Passage has hosted an internal destigmatization campaign, dubbed “I am STRONGER than you think”. Our goal was to empower the youth that we work with to see themselves through a lens of strength and hope – too many times, these young people have been defined by their diagnosis – not by who they are as a person. They are strong and courageous, resilient and hopeful. They are changing our world for the better.  (more…)

Pin It on Pinterest