Minnesota Power dedicates Yellow Ribbon Forest in honor of military service members

October 20, 2018

Minnesota Power’s commitments to military families and to the environment came together Oct. 20 as the company formally dedicated a first-of-its-kind Yellow Ribbon Forest northeast of Camp Ripley near Baxter, Minnesota.

Company representatives, lawmakers, and officials from the Minnesota National Guard’s Camp Ripley and Beyond the Yellow Ribbon gathered on a crisp, windy afternoon to mark the occasion by bud capping some of the young trees with slips of yellow paper to help protect them from browsing deer.

Among those at the event were Al Hodnik, ALLETE chairman, president and CEO; Deb Amberg, senior vice president ALLETE and chief strategy officer for regulated operations; Brad Oachs, senior vice president ALLETE and president regulated operations; and Al Rudeck, ALLETE Clean Energy president. Carrie Ruud, who represents District 10 in the Minnesota Senate, and Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson also attended. Kurt Anderson, MP director of environmental and land management, served as emcee.

“Minnesota Power has long valued care for the environment and support of military-connected families, both of which are deeply rooted in our culture,” Amberg said in remarks before attendees began bud capping. “We are proud that the Yellow Ribbon Forest, part of the Rajala Woods legacy, also honors the sacrifices made by service members and their families and will serve as a place of respite, reflection and renewal for generations to come.”

Staci Hedley, chair for the Crow Wing County Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, spoke directly to that sense of respite and renewal, and the meaning behind the collaboration of Minnesota Power, Camp Ripley, and Beyond the Yellow Ribbon that is bringing the forest to life.

“While some will just see this space as a beautiful forest or a neat trail to explore, those for whom this is dedicated to will likely and unknowingly be receiving some pretty impactful mental health benefits,” Hedley said. “There are studies out there saying just being in nature, taking advantage of the reflection space, not even really doing much, just being there, can lead to a lower risk of depression, anxiety and stress. Less stress on the service members and families leads to increased resilience, self-esteem and overall improved quality of life.”

Memorial trail and benches

The Yellow Ribbon Forest is on 60 acres of Minnesota Power land along the Gull River. It is open to the public and the land will be professionally managed to ensure a healthy, biodiverse and sustainable forest. Minnesota Power planted 35,000 white pine, red pine and jack pine seedlings at the site this past spring.

Minnesota Power also is working with Beyond the Yellow Ribbon to design a memorial trail dedicated to the Minnesota National Guard service members who have died in a combat zone since 9/11 and to designate an area near the river in recognition of the silent casualties in the global war on terror, the victims of suicide and other unseen injuries.

Several benches made from mature white pines and donated by John Rajala, son of the late Minnesota forest products businessman and conservationist Jack Rajala, will be placed along the trail. Minnesota Power’s Rajala Woods initiative was named in honor of Jack Rajala, who also served on the ALLETE board of directors.

National Guard Brig. Gen. Lowell Kruse said the forest provides a practical benefit to Camp Ripley by helping to hold back encroachment on the training camp’s boundaries, but it was “the graciousness and the thought of Minnesota Power giving back to this community and giving back to service members that really touches my heart the most.”

Senator extends her thanks

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar sent her thanks in a letter, which was read to the crowd by Thor Underdahl, MP government affairs manager.

“Woven into the fabric of our heritage is the love of outdoors and passion for preserving our state’s natural beauty to be enjoyed for generations to come,” Klobuchar wrote. “It is that same passion that inspired Minnesota Power to create the Rajala Woods Initiative … . Now, through this Yellow Ribbon Forest, our nation’s service members and their families will have a special place to make memories with their families that will last a lifetime.”

Minnesota Power, an ALLETE company, launched the Rajala Woods initiative in 2015 to ensure sustainable use of forests, improve biodiversity, and enhance wildlife habitat and recreation. It intends to increase the percentage of longer-lived conifer tree species in central and northeastern Minnesota forests by planting up to 3 million white pine, jack pine and spruce tree seedlings.

The Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program, overseen by the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs, supports service members, veterans and their families by connecting them with career counseling, professional development and employment resources. ALLETE/Minnesota Power was named a Yellow Ribbon company in 2016 and was followed by ALLETE Clean Energy in 2017. To earn the designation, companies must build relationships with local military leaders, identify which employees have military connections and commit to hiring and retaining veterans and supporting an environment where military-connected employees can thrive.