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Northern Outdoors Club fills outdoor activity niche in Esko

Cassie Janke started Northern Outdoors Club in 2020.

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Cassie Janke holds a bundle of fine fibers as Trygve Mattson blows into flame sparks he created with a fire striker Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. Mattson was one of the students taking part in Northern Outdoors Club classes for Esko students. The club teaches kids outdoors skills like cooking with a fire, archery and even offers firearm certification classes. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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Northern Outdoors Club's offerings of outdoor educational and survival skills classes have been a hit with Esko students.

Cassie Janke, founder, started the club in 2020. She worked as a naturalist with the Three Rivers Park District down in the Twin Cities before moving to the area in 2016.

“Coming up here I would have loved to hop onto some other nature center or forestry area, and I just couldn’t really find anything,” she said. “I really wanted to keep teaching and sharing experiences.”

This prompted Janke to start her own club, which offers students a chance to have hands-on learning experiences outside, learning prehistoric skills, outdoor cooking, archery and even tracking.

Janke came up with the name Northern Outdoors Club, and its acronym ‘NOC’ has a nod to archery and bows that have a ‘nock point.’

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“If your nock point is messed up you’ll never succeed,” she said “You always have to have your basics of your nock point to shoot your arrow, which is kind of cool.”

The classes, which typically run once a week, fill up quickly and usually have a waitlist.

Janke also leads firearm and hunter's safety courses through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources two to three times a year.

“When they complete it, (we) host a bonus buck day,” she said. “And that is just more shooting time, a lot more hands-on stuff. We’ll set up hunting blinds and decoys.”

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Garrett Leow tries to start a fire with a fire bow Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, with the Northern Outdoors Club in Esko. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Janke described the bonus day as the “super-fun” day, which is optional day after the DNR training.

Michele Carlson, community education director for the Esko School District, said the club has been an asset to the district.

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“The biggest benefit is that it teaches kids that they can do a lot of learning outside and have a lot of fun while doing it,” she said.

Janke worked with the school district before starting Northern Outdoors Club, which Carlson said helped develop trust and interest from parents in the club.

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Jayce Johnson breathes life into a fire Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, with the Northern Outdoors Club in Esko. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

After-school activities are popular at Esko, but Northern Outdoors Club is very unique in its offerings.

“Cassie's classes are right at the top of the list, of course,” she said. “I get emails often, on ‘When are you opening Cassie's clubs?’”

The outdoor club fills a niche for students. The district offers other after-school programs, like pottery or more science-focused classes, but the Northern Outdoors Club is on its own.

“Certain kids, that is the only club they want to do, and they want to get into all the ones she offers,” Carlson said.

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Parents have responded well to the club and its offerings, despite some nervousness about firearm safety classes.

“If anything they are learning the absolute respect of it and the reason we are hunting,” she said.

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An Esko student unravels a cord to create a bundle of fine threads that will catch fire easily on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Word of mouth has been the biggest contributor in getting attention on the classes, as Janke does not advertise online a lot.

Janke is looking to branch out into some of the surrounding school districts this winter and spring.

“I’ve started making contacts with other people … I do believe it will branch out fairly easily,” she said.

Carlson said she believes any district’s community education program would be lucky to have Janke come to them.

For more information on Northern Outdoors Club, visit its Facebook page or reach out to Janke at northernoutdoorsclub@gmail.com .

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Cassie Janke demonstrates how to light a fire using a fire striker Tuesday, Dec 14, 2021. The students had opportunities to try their hand using strikers, flint and steel, and a fire bow. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune free card

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Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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