Executive Director of Wolf Ridge humbled by national leadership award

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A big honor for the Executive Director of Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. Peter Smerud is receiving the 2023 ANCA Nature Center Leadership Award.

ANCA stands for Association of Nature Center Administrators.

Smerud is the first Minnesotan to earn this honor.

Leaders surprised him with the news during a board meeting a few months ago.

“There were tears,” he said. ‘It means a lot.”

He explained that mentor gave him this advice, so many years ago. “If you want to achieve great things in the world, don’t care about getting credit for anything. Just do good work. If you do good work in the world, the people that really matter will know.”

Also, he’s proud to elevate Minnesota’s role in nature-based learning.

Most recently he has led the Minnesota Outdoor School for All Coalition (outdoorschoolforallmn.org), introducing legislation that would fully fund a three-day, two-night immersive nature experience for every fourth through eighth-grade student in the state.

If passed, Minnesota would join Oregon and Washington as early leaders in making Outdoor School accessible for all. Smerud has also played an instrumental role in ANCA’s national Outdoor School for All campaign. 

“I have been working closely with Pete as a member of ANCA’s Outdoor School for All Consortium and am constantly impressed with his creativity, strategic thinking, and perseverance when faced with incredible obstacles,” said Jen Levey, ANCA executive director. “Pete raises the bar for leadership and always extends a hand to those around him to elevate other leaders along the way.”

Smerud joined Wolf Ridge in 1987 when he started working as a naturalist. Over his 36 years at Wolf Ridge, he has contributed to nearly all aspects of its operations, including facility and program development, adventure education and administration. He assumed the role of executive director in 2011.

Under his leadership, Wolf Ridge completed the renovation of its Margaret A. Cargill Lodge, which houses students who participate in multi-day, overnight programs. This was the world’s first renovation project to achieve full certification of the Living Building Challenge, the highest international standard for sustainability, inclusive of energy, water, site, health and equity sub-standards.  

Smerud has been active since 2000 in other aspects of ANCA, being a regular participant at the Outdoor School Summit and the ANCA Annual Summit, serving on ANCA Peer Consult teams and supporting future leaders in the ANCA Mentor Program.

ANCA will recognize Smerud with this award as part of the Leadership Award Ceremony on August 23.