Earth Day in Red Wing will be more than a blip this year, largely thanks to Laura Wildenborg.
More than just an outdoor enthusiast, Wildenborg could more correctly be called an outdoor evangelist. Sustainability and the environment are her passions and she demonstrates boundless energy for sharing her values with others.
Years ago, Wildenborg left a great job as a water rapids guide in South Carolina (one she calls a dream job) because she needed more purpose-driven work.
"I wasn't feeling fulfilled by it," Wildenborg remembered. "It was a huge company and I'd start talking to the higher-ups, trying to get rid of styrofoam and change some of the systems that were in place to make it more sustainable - from a position of being nobody - but I was feeling the need to do that."
The seed of activism for her was planted as a high school student having fun at the Environmental Learning Center. Inspired by the experience, she went on to get her B.A. in environmental studies from the College of Saint Benedict where she took in a lot of knowledge she's been excited to put to work. Today, she's helping others as the chair of the Red Wing Sustainability Commission.
Wildenborg also works full time as a field instructor with the ELC, helping kids learn to hunt mushrooms, tap maple syrup and develop wilderness skills. She also brings creativity to her program Young Women in the Woods where, recently, she led group of high school girls on a life-affirming spring break excursion to the northwood, complete with snowshoeing and dogsled racing.
"Having Red Wing as this place where I can launch off from ... I feel like I am getting a lot of experience I wouldn't in the cities," Wildenborg said.
City Council member and Sustainability Commission council liaison Evan Brown agrees. "Red Wing continues to punch above its weight," Brown said. "For a city our size we work hard to create real impact in our community. Cities much larger than we are have something to learn from us."
The culminating Earth Day event has been Wildenborg's pet project since the very beginning: the Wild and Scenic Film Festival and electric vehicle car show. These back-to-back events will take place on Sunday, April 22, at the Sheldon Theatre. Wildenborg was also assisted by planning committee members Mick Wendland, Nancy Berlin and Goodhue County Commissioner Paul Drotos. Sustainability Commission member Bill Gehn is leading the EV car show.
As a St. Bens student, Wildenborg was introduced to the idea of the environmental film festival because one toured her school. Banff Mountain Film Festival, out of Canada, tours internationally, and its first stop happened to be on the St. Bens/St. John's campus in Collegeville, Minn.
The majesty and adventure of what she saw on screen blew Wildenborg away and gave her new energy for protecting the earth. So she continued to travel back to her college and the Twin Cities to see the festival each year, until finally Wildenborg tried to bring Banff to Red Wing.
The city wasn't selected, but about that same time she attended a similar event called the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, hosted by the Cannon River Watershed Partnership. They announced they wouldn't be hosting the festival in 2018, so, with that nonprofit's blessing, Wildenborg applied to bring the festival to Red Wing and got approved.
"This year I think we have an exceptionally strong line up of Earth Week events, capped off with our electric car show followed by the Wild and Scenic Film Festival," said Brown. "These two events on April 22 work together so well to help people discover ideas for action. That is the theme for this year's Earth Week events, Driven to Action. We also have events hosted by the local Citizens Climate Lobby, Fair Trade Books and Friends of the Bluff."
EV cars will be parked on W. Third St. from noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday with the owners available to answer questions and demonstrate features for the public. The EV car show is free to attend and will feature a Tesla and Nissan Leaf (author's note: um, mine), among others.
The Wild and Scenic Film Festival costs $10 for students, $15 for everyone else, and all of the content is family-friendly. Twelve films will be screened, ranging in length from 5 minutes to 35 minutes and were selected from a range of options by the planning committee. Doors will open at 1 p.m. with the festival beginning at 2 p.m. and lasting about three hours with intermission.
"The Wild and Scenic Film Festival is very sustainability-focused," Wildenborg said. "With Banff there's a road warrior that brings it around, but with this film festival they are supporting me remotely: on the phone, with email, with a ton of information to help get me set up.
"They mailed me the DVDs, so they aren't traveling themselves. They're decreasing their carbon footprint by not having somebody on the ground running around with it, so I think that intention is really cool. Also their national sponsors are very green as well."
Each attendee will receive goodies and information from the festival's list of local and national sponsors, including a free Cliff bar for everyone at the door and a reusable bag to the first 100 attendees.
"Our action is about more than this one week," Brown said. "Our city commitment to sustainability continues to be shown in the last year by winning a Clean Energy Community Award just a few weeks ago at the 2018 Clean Energy Resource Teams conference, being designated as a Silver level Solsmart City and being designated a level 4 Minnesota GreenStep City. These awards recognize the hard work our city has done to make our city cleaner and greener."