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Cathy Techtmann stood in the darkened Martin Hanson Theater at Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center Monday, fielding questions from Drummond Area School District fourth-and fifth-graders about climate change.
Techtmann, a UW-Madison Extension environmental outreach specialist, explained the consequences of a warming world to her small audience before taking the kids outside to investigate the subject further in the center's prairie.
But helping schools bus bright young minds to the visitor center to enjoy educational programs such as this may hit some road bumps in the future, as one of the center's longtime benefactors — the Fidelis Gamma Chapter of teachers sorority Alpha Delta Kappa — is disbanding and will no longer be on hand to donate to the Little Yellow School Bus Scholarship program.
Alpha Delta Kappa, an international organization of women educators, was founded in 1942. Ashland's Sigma Chapter of working teachers was chartered on April 11, 1970, with the Fidelis Gamma Chapter of retired teachers following on June 4, 1984, as Sigma members retired.
Although at one time Fidelis could count as many as 25 retired teachers in its ranks, membership has dwindled to seven — and only four of them are physically capable of attending meetings with the other three being more than 95 years old.
Ashland's Sigma Chapter closed down long ago, Fidelis member Dorie Traaholt said. Without that group to feed the Fidelis Gamma Chapter and many retiring teachers moving away to be with family, membership declined.
"We tried to recruit retired teachers," Traaholt said. "But teachers who retire now like to travel."
Traaholt, who is 78 years old, and chapter members Shirley Gaudreau, 83, Rita Kovach, 78, and Mary Grube, 71, met on Monday with Techtmann and Susan Nelson, a U.S. Forest Service interpretive services specialist at Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, to discuss the chapter's pending closure and impact on donations.
The 35-year-old chapter has donated more than $18,000 to the visitor center since 2001, when it provided a $10,000 grant to buy seven tandem kayaks.
Over the years the chapter mostly donated toward Little Yellow School Bus scholarships, which help school districts offset the cost of transportation. Without financial assistance, some schools could not afford to bus students to the center, Nelson said.
While the money Fidelis donates each year adds up, the educational opportunities the funds help provide students are priceless.
The visitor center connects kids with nature through its Environmental Stewardship Education Program, a series of programs that introduce students to the history, culture and natural resources of the northern Great Lakes region.
In one unit, Techtmann takes students kayaking on Fish Creek to teach them about estuaries, natural resources, water chemistry, Anishinaabe culture and regional history. If Chequamegon Bay is calm, they may even paddle to Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge.
The goal — besides education — is to instill a passion in the future leaders for conservation and the environment, and provide opportunities for activities and travel that some kids may never otherwise enjoy.
"We couldn't do these things without ADK's help," Nelson said. "They've been with us from the very beginning as partners and friends."
A passion for education and helping the visitor center hasn't dimmed for the four remaining active Fidelis sisters, all retired Ashland elementary school teachers, but without an infusion of new blood they came to the realization that the chapter couldn't continue.
The chapter will slowly wind down, Traaholt said, possibly by December when state-and international-level dues come due.
In the meantime, Nelson and Techtmann are left hoping they can find ways to make up for the teachers' absence and loss of donations.
A nonprofit ministry that has been helping addicts in downtown Ashland for two years is moving to the city's south side so all the organization's operations are under one roof.
Crossroads Outreach Center has been providing job training and other skills at 307 W. Main St. since 2017 but now is moving to a former industrial building at 3600 Ellis Ave. next to Ashland Mats.
Crossroads Chief Executive Officer Rich Larson said the organization works to help people recover from drug addiction and assist them in becoming productive.
"That facility was a blessing to us, but then it turned into something that wasn't," Larson said of the Main Street location. "For us to be able to move under one roof, there are definitely a lot of positives in being able to do that."
Larson declined to go into specifics about what precipitated the move, although he did say financial considerations contributed to the board's decision.
"It started off as a blessing, but things changed that made it more difficult for us," he said.
Asked what had changed, Larson said he preferred not to discuss those matters.
"Those are unfortunate things that we just don't need to put other people through," he said.
Crossroads board member Carla Ward said the organization is about much more than a building.
"The focus of who we are is more represented here than downtown," she said of the new location.
The Ellis Avenue site is home to a workshop where recovering addicts can learn the importance of showing up to work regularly and woodworking skills that could help to make them more employable.
Larson said each person going through the training program was individually mentored in a program of Christian recovery.
Ward said that was at the heart of what Crossroads was about.
"Here, this is about taking literally in the workshop, and in people, raw, unpolished materials and bringing them through a process of transformation, where they are renewed, redeemed and restored, finding the value in all of that."
In creating the workshop, the ministry acquired the machinery of Voyageur Paddles, a firm that formerly manufactured full sized and decorative canoe paddles and boat oars.
Larson said the Crossroads workshop now makes decorative and craft items that are sold to other firms, such as Disney, which uses them for laser-engraved souvenirs in their gift shops.
For some people, such as Craig Bell of Ashland, Crossroads has been a lifesaver.
Bell said that his drug addiction landed him in prison and his previous attempts to get clean all failed. Crossroads has given him hope that he can get better.
"It has saved my life. Crossroads has not only come inside me, but my whole family. Having this ministry, and the fellowship is what has been keeping me going," he said.
Before entering the program, he said he was lost.
"Yesterday marks one year since I have been out," he said. "I can honestly say without Crossroads and the staff, I know I wouldn't be where I'm at right now."
Working with people like Bell is the core mission for Crossroads, Larson said.
One ministry that Crossroads has spun off is an effort that grew almost unintentionally; assisting homeless people in immediate crisis situations, attempting to help them find food and shelter.
"It was not something that we were fully capable of doing," Larson said.
Larson said that board member Jim LaGarde and his wife Chris were going to assume responsibility for that effort, establishing a different downtown ministry.
"They will be able to do that more intentionally and effectively," he continued. "We will partner with them; it ties in with what we are doing. A lot of people who are homeless are homeless because of their addictions. If we can provide a place where they can take a deep breath and see what is going on, we can then come and evaluate if they are someone who could fit with what we are doing with the long-term ministry we have."
Still, far from cutting back on the ministry's activities, Larson said the organization was moving ahead with efforts to expand opportunities for people incarcerated in the Ashland and Bayfield county jails, including seeking to have the Crossroads workshop experience serve for community service requirements.
"This is a great place for that to happen; this is a lot more of a controlled environment here," he said.
Ashland will focus new efforts this winter on making sure residents clear sidewalks, and the city is asking folks to help make sure fire hydrants also are shoveled out.
Ashland police and public works employees now will be charged with enforcing the ordinance that requires residents to shovel sidewalks within 48 hours every time 2 or more inches of snow falls.
The rule is intended to ensure that everyone from kids going to school to firefighters and mail carriers are safe as they go about their days.
"It's huge," said Ashland Postmaster Mark Thimm. "Every year we have a lot of residences where we have to stop mail deliveries because the walkways aren't shoveled."
People often have the entrances to their homes at the rear where they park their cars. They shovel the snow from there, but neglect to clear the snow at the front where kids trudge to and from school every day and mail gets delivered.
"Our carriers can't be going through hip-deep snow," Thimm said.
Ashland Fire Chief David Wegener likewise said cleared sidewalks help firefighters get to and from emergencies, whether that's a fire or an ambulance call that requires crews to move someone on a stretcher from a home to the street.
Even more important is his hope that city residents will "adopt a hydrant."
"It would be really nice if people would clear the hydrants on their curbside; that helps the whole neighborhood," he said.
The city is installing new flags intended to poke above snowdrifts to mark hydrants. But if residents dig out the fireplugs, firefighters can save
precious minutes when they arrive at a blaze.
Wegner said he's not just concerned about emergency crews or mail carriers. Shoveling sidewalks helps everyone.
"It's beneficial to the general public; it keeps people off the street where it's not safe," he said.
To help residents see how important that is, the city is shifting enforcement responsibilities for snow removal from Property Maintenance Specialist Chris Luebben to police and public works employees.
"It was felt that since they are out and about anyway, they were in a better position to check to see if sidewalks have been cleared," said Ashland Director of Planning and Development Megan McBride.
McBride said those who don't clear snow within 48 hours first will receive a door hanger informing them that the sidewalk must be cleared. If that doesn't work, a second hanger will be left. The next step would be a $25 fine, she said.
McBride said the city is in the process of preparing printed materials outlining sidewalk-clearing requirements. The pamphlets will be available at City Hall and other public locations, she said.
"We want to be a bit more proactive about getting the word out about what the expectations are," she said.
McBride hopes those outreach efforts work. She doesn't want city employees to have to be the sidewalk police.
"Really, we won't start contacting people unless it consistently shows that they have not shoveled, and it becomes some kind of hazard. The whole goal is to make sure that all the sidewalks remain walkable," she said.
McBride said this year's efforts continue a trend set last year, when the city began more conscientious enforcement of snow removal ordinances.
Prior to 2018, public works employees hung door hangers on residences with snowy walks, but inconsistently and generally only for the worst offenders and after the city received complaints, McBride said.
Last year, the city left about 50 door-hangers — McBride didn't have an exact number for previous years, but said 50 was a big jump.
This year there could be even more if the outreach doesn't work, McBride said.
"The police and public works people are out there more to see the sidewalks," she said.
McBride said the area of greatest emphasis would be on the primary corridors where children use sidewalks to get to school. The city also will help people who can't shovel to make contact with organizations like Faith in Action that have volunteer snow-shovelers.