Eco-Challenge pays for nature-minded

by Ingrid Skjong

Portaging canoes, pitching tents and lugging backpacks are second nature to Forestry Club members Jeff Vernon, Brian Loeffelholz and Tony Dalbec.
But their well-honed outdoor skills did more than give them an excuse to bathe in the sun Thursday as they competed in the College of Natural Resources’ New Eco-Challenge held on the St. Paul campus.
As winners of the outdoor skills competition, which intertwined the three timed camping-related events with nine ecologically geared trivia questions, the club won $500. The prize money was part of a $1,000 donation by the College of Natural Resources, which co-sponsored the event with the Center for Outdoor Adventure.
“It was something the students wanted to be involved with,” said Marty Moen, communications coordinator for the College of Natural Resources.
The Center for Outdoor Activities initiated the event last year, with only the three physical trials comprising the entire competition.
College of Natural Resources clubs crafted questions this year that tested teams’ knowledge without requiring them to be environmental aces.
“This should make them aware of their need to learn more about the environment,” said Abra Hovgaard, a sophomore wood and paper sciences major who co-coordinated the challenge.
With Earth Day observed Wednesday and Natural Resources Week running through Friday, organizers hope the trivia format will urge people to think about the environment.
The five competing teams included representatives from the University YMCA, the College of Natural Resources Faculty Board and the Department of Wood and Paper Sciences. Although the substantial prize money was a major incentive, members of the winning team joked they would like to take their skills to the next level.
“We dream of being in the real Eco-Challenge,” said Loeffelholz.
The “real” Eco-Challenge is a grueling, corporate-sponsored competition held in varying locations around the world. It involves a variety of outdoor trials including orienteering and kayaking.
In its ultra-competitive format, the two-member co-ed teams are ousted from the contest if one participant drops out.
Although the natural resource college’s challenge was not as cut-throat, providing an arena for friendly competition was important. Events were timed, and winners were determined from there.
“My goal was to bring the whole student body together,” Hovgaard said.
Along with increasing environmental awareness, Hovgaard said she wanted the event to act as a mixer of sorts for teams on both the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses. Often activities are viewed as exclusive to either one campus or the other and not collective events, she added.
The YMCA team, which dubbed itself “Carpe Diem,” said they felt at home as they breathlessly critiqued their performance after pitching their tent.
The teammates work at camps during the summer. They said the experiences are a kind of informal training for the competition.