Riveredge Kids

Once a Riveredge Kid, you see the world differently.

Step onto Trailblazer Island and a wondrous world appears – children are introduced to the natural world not through fear, but through whimsy, fun, and imagination. Whether a camper, a parent, or an adult hiker, a visitor to Riveredge is transported from the everyday world of highways and suburbs, to an other-worldly experience that is a reminder that natural places are important.

Riveredge engages people with the natural world in a way that is personally transformational, cultivates a meaningful connection to nature, and instills an environmental sensibility.

Whether you’ve spent your childhood searching for frogs in Farm Pond or discovered the Queen of the Prairie for the first time as an adult, every visitor to Riveredge is a ‘Riveredge Kid’.

Riveredge Kids ARE Riveredge. Here are some of their stories.


Meet Eric Larsen. Polar explorer and expedition guide. Completed more polar expeditions than any other American in history. The first ever person to reach the North Pole, South Pole, and the top of Mount Everest in a single year. May be the last ever person in history to complete an expedition to the geographic North Pole. Riveredge Kid.

Eric says he “spent as much time outside at Riveredge as a kid as I could.” He participated in almost every activity available, from maple tapping to volunteering at summer camps. And that time at Riveredge had a huge impact on his future adventures.

“It gave me an opportunity to explore, learn. I discovered a lot about myself at Riveredge. I discovered what I love, and I love being outside, and it’s something that is with me in a really strong and huge way to this day. I discovered the freedom to discover, to explore, and equally important, to make mistakes. I was able to learn a lot of the skills that I know now, here.”

Eric is a perfect embodiment of a Riveredge Kid. Passionate about the world around them. Always seeking to discover, learn, and explore new things. Willing to challenge themselves. Finds peace in having quiet moments in the outdoors.


Caroline grew up at Riveredge, or as she calls it, “the best backyard you can ever imagine”. Our Director of Education, Sunny Knutson, remembers Caroline as the 5 year old who was always the last to pull her strainer out of the pond.

Since then, Caroline spent her summers at Riveredge camps, interned at Riveredge while completing her undergraduate degree in Environmental Science at Creighton University, and presented on Phosphorus Recycling by Quagga Mussels at Riveredge’s 1st Annual Research Symposium while a graduate student at UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences.

Today Caroline is in Washington D.C. completing the prestigious Knauss Sea Grant Marine Policy Fellowship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Riveredge gave Caroline a place to get out and explore nature and stimulated a deep love of the outdoors that helped shape her future.

In her own words, it was at Riveredge that Caroline realized “science isn’t just a hobby, it can actually be a career.”

“I have been an educator for 22 years. More importantly I am the parent of an eleven year old that attended a nature preschool for two years and has since participated in outdoor education classes continually since kindergarten at Riveredge. When we began this “journey,” approximately eight years ago, I had no idea how much an education rooted in the outdoors would come to change not only my daughters life but mine as well.”


As the former Superintendent of the West Bend School District and current leader in education policy, Ted Neitzke is directly responsible for supporting the transformation of thousands of students into active and engaged citizens of the world.

Ted had a transformation of his own in middle school as he stepped off a bus into the wild world of a Riveredge summer camp.

“It set me on a direction where I became very exploratory, very curious about the world in which I lived. It’s one of the pinnacle experiences in my life that set me into education.

Perhaps most important, these experiences are shaping something even closer to Ted- his family. His children, Charlie and Grace, have been coming to Riveredge since they were 5.

“They understand that they’re a very small piece of a very big world and that when you come to Riveredge and you walk through this or you go the trails, or the river, or the ponds, or go to an event, you are participating in something bigger than you.


Anastasia’s first visit to Riveredge was a field trip during her fourth grade year as a student in Campbellsport. She remembers it vividly — tapping maple trees, running around in the hardwood forest, and eating delicious pancakes dripping with pure Riveredge maple syrup.

Riveredge made an impact on Anastasia and she later had the opportunity to give back to Riveredge. Anastasia spent the summer of 2015 as a research intern where she analyzed the structure and composition of the Riveredge forests she had first explored a decade prior. Anastasia’s early trips to Riveredge helped spark her interest in the Wisconsin outdoors, particularly forests. She will be graduating from UW-Stevens Point in December with a Bachelor’s Degree in Forestry Ecosystem Management with minors in Soil Science and Spanish.

The passions and memories of the outdoors that Anastasia gained as a child at Riveredge grew into the studies and practices of her professional career. Anastasia impressed attendees with her academic knowledge at several Connections in Nature Student Research Symposiums hosted at Riveredge.

“Riveredge is special to me because it feels like an extension of my backyard. A place to go explore a multitude of wild treasures; from wetlands to prairies to forests to rivers!”

For my daughter especially, this lit a fire in her that will last a lifetime. She said this morning that everyday should be Earth Day.


She is an educator. She is an adventurer. She is a biologist. But first, she was a Riveredge Kid.

Throughout her childhood, Riveredge was a big part of Sunny’s life. She has fond memories of summers spent at camp, tapping maple trees during the sugarin’ season, searching for the Yule Log in the crisp winter night; all while forging a deep connection with the land.  She began her career at Riveredge as a Summer Intern in 1996, assisting with camps and leading teen adventure trips.

In 1997, shortly after joining the Riveredge staff as an Environmental Educator, Sunny took her first trip to Tirimbina, a Rainforest Center established in Costa Rica through a Riveredge partnership with the Milwaukee Public Museum. She has returned nearly every year since. Seventeen years after her first encounter, Sunny directs the Education programs at Riveredge.

“Riveredge has been a big influence on my life… it’s very special to me.”

Kris and Jameson

Kris loved her days as a Riveredge summer camper so much, she wanted to make sure her son Jameson could experience it too. Even if meant driving from Chicago, where they live, to attend.

Kris describes her Riveredge days as “this kind of mind blowing experience where you’re learning about all the stuff you wanted to know, and there were adults putting you in the position to take on challenges. It was really exciting to realize all this time you spent led up to a better understanding of the world that you don’t always notice under your feet.”

And now, Jameson gets to make his own Riveredge memories.

“I hope he takes away some independence; I hope he really learns to jump off the rock into the pond, fall down in the mud, scrape his knees on the tree trunks. And just take risks in a place where he’ll be supported and safe.”

Like mother, like son. “I’m really honored this a place I can continue coming to with my family, and that he can can kind of create his own stories here and that I can watch him grow and develop and see what kind of influence it will be for him.” 

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago, my health care team swung into action with traditional surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. I knew, however, that what my soul needed was not time in clinics, but time in nature. I prescribed some Riveredge therapy for myself. When I felt too sick and weak from the treatments to go to work, I would shuffle slowly down the paths of Riveredge and eventually end up at one of the ponds. There I would sit quietly and listen to the frogs and wait for, as a friend puts it, the little things to come out. There I would find peace and the healing I needed.


Biologist. Dad. Husband. Active Citizen. Scout Leader. Board Member. Riveredge Kid. Mike Grisar embodies all of these things. Mike’s first visit to Riveredge was as a first grader at St. Paul’s Lutheran in Grafton in 1981. He and his classmates were not bothered by the cold wind that day or the notion that this experience would have a long-lasting impact on their lives. Instead, they were simply excited to be exploring outside on an otherwise normal school day.

Mike, a Carroll University grad, who succeeds Noel Cutright as We Energies’ Principal Ecologist, oversees ecological restoration on We Energy properties. He is closely involved with the peregrine falcon recovery project and enjoys teaching outreach programs in local classrooms as a part of this effort, as well as sitting on Riveredge’s Board of Directors and as a key advisor for our research and conservation work.

Mike firmly believes that outdoor education opportunities during childhood rear and mold lifelong passions and respect for the natural world.

“A huge part of my life, my passions, my job, our family activities and vacations generally revolve around and involve being outdoors. The very framework of my interest and my education were ingrained in me when I was a child. Some of this foundation, I can no doubt attribute to my experiences at Riveredge.”

Melbye Family

Every Kid In A Park? Sounds about right to us! Recently, hundreds of fourth grade families have become Riveredge members for free through an exciting partnership with the White House’s Every Kid In A Park program.

The partnership has been a huge success for reducing barriers to outdoor access and showing families the joys of spending time together outdoors. Kristal and Dave Melbye and their four children Kate, Anna, Luke and Ally are a perfect example.

Kristal tells us their family has already used their new membership much more than they expected; they’ve walked around just to see the differences in trails from season to season, snowshoed by torchlight, won a maple-sugaring contest, and even had some (adult only) fun at our Frothy Forage microbrew festival.

Perhaps the most exciting part? Kristal has noticed their time at Riveredge making a difference on the children:My kids have become more curious about things they see in nature. At first I was usually the one pointing out things I found interesting to tell them about. Now, they often notice things and ask about them.” Riveredge Kids indeed!

This past Saturday was the perfect day for a family trip to Riveredge, and we made it so. Our son led us from the visitor center, through the high grasses and parking lots, across Highway Y, and into the woods. When we finally found the steps down to the river, he led us in. We were told of the stinging nettle out on Trailblazer Island, but also of the plants nearby and their magical, medicinal effects if one touches the stinging nettle. We saw many minnows and crayfish on our river crossing, and we even found the frogs at the edge of the island. We had a great rest of the day at Riveredge, finishing with some swinging on the tire swing.