ROCHELLE – For the first time in several years, Rochelle Police Detective John Kaltenbach had the opportunity to take some boys from Rochelle Township High School on a week-long trip to the Minnesota wilderness to canoe, camp, hike and fish.
During their stay in the wilderness the students learned outdoor survival skills, worked on team building, and learned many lessons in responsibility during the outdoor adventure.
This past July, Kaltenbach along with local attorney Russell Crull, took six high school students on a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Ely, Minnesota. The area is part of the Superior National Forest located along the Minnesota/Canada border and features over one million acres of lakes and forests.
The only way to access the BWCAW is by canoe or hiking as there are no combustion motors allowed.
“The BWCAW is one of the few places that you can truly experience wilderness camping. There is also a lot of history in the BWCAW as voyagers years ago traveled some of the same portages and lakes while transporting beaver pelts to trade for goods and supplies,” Kaltenbach explained.
When selecting students for the trip, Kaltenbach works with counselors from RTHS who recommend students that would like to go on the trip and who might benefit as well. Some of the requirements to go on the trip are keeping grades up and not have any new negative contacts with the police.
Once the kids had been chosen for the trip, they completed a nine-hour drive north to the Canadian Border Outfitters where they would gather any last-minute supplies, practice paddling in a canoe and spend their first night in the bunkhouse before heading to camp.
The next morning after starting the day with a big breakfast, the group took a nine-mile towboat ride where motors are allowed, then began to paddle 10 miles to reach their campsite.
“Going up the rapids, that was so fun. Normally they go up the portages, but he [Det. Kaltenbach] said let’s try going up the rapids. That was really fun,” Blake Haley said.
While Kaltenbach has been traveling to the boundary waters for more than 25 years, for some of the students this was a completely new experience.
“During the trip, the students were able to experience some things that they otherwise would not be able to do,” added Kaltenbach. “Some students had not been out of Illinois and some students had never been in a motor boat or caught a fish.”
“I think what I liked most about the trip was that it was so far away and it was out in the middle of the lake and I’ve never been outside of this state to camp so just being outside of my normal surroundings was pretty cool,” Treyton Buh said.
On top of giving the kids an experience they would not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy, the trip also helps the kids look at local law enforcement in a new light.
“I think a lot of the time young people get a skewed view of how adults are much different, and this opportunity allows the kids to see that officers like John are regular people like the rest of us,” said Crull.
Once arriving to the portage, the group then carried all of their equipment inside the canoes the rest of the way to their campsite where they spent the next four nights. At the camp, the students only had access to the equipment they carried in their canoes, which meant no electricity or cell phones.
At camp the students got to participate in many different activities over the next few days such as hiking, fishing, swimming and canoeing. Along with the fun activities came some work in the form of camp chores such as gathering fire wood, filtering water and doing dishes.
This trip forced the students to come together to achieve a common goal.
“I’ve camped before but not camping like this,” Bryce Brazee said.
“The students on the trip made new friends that they might not have made otherwise due to them being in different social groups at school,” said Kaltenbach.
The group got very lucky on the trip with good weather, good fishing and mosquitoes that were tolerable. Crull said his favorite part of the trip was spending time fishing with young men who were eager to learn and listen to stories of previous trips while sitting around the fire.
He also seems to think the kids really enjoyed the fishing as well.
“I believe the kids’ favorite part was either the fishing or sitting around the campfire eating the fish we had just caught,” Crull explained.
This trip was once an annual occasion and for the last few years has not been something that the city continued, but thanks to the efforts of Rochelle Police Chief Eric Higby, Deputy Chief Jeff Leininger and Rochelle City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh, the trip was brought back this year.
There is no cost to any student that attends the trip as it is 95 percent funded through donations from Flagg Township and the Tess & Crull Law Offices. This was the first time in years the trip was brought back and those who attended hope that it is reinstated as an annual event.
“I would like to see the city remain behind this program and embrace it as a community. This experience is both enjoyable and educational for the kids,” Crull added.
“I liked the fishing…we woke up early and fished for like, eight or nine hours...I’ve fished before but not ‘big time fished’ but now I want to fish more because of that experience,” Buh said. “Before this trip I wouldn’t have been the type to go out and camp but [trip] really opened up my eyes to that type of life which seems pretty fun, it was. It’s a once in a lifetime trip for sure, definitely worth going on.”