The Northwoods Volunteer Connection is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, created on June 10, 2014. We are dedicated to recruiting, training and delivering volunteers to work on projects within or near the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota.

The idea of a volunteer coordinating organization came from a local canoe outfitter, a retired Forest Service District Ranger, and a local US Forest Service staff person. They each saw a possibility for linking the untapped resource of potential volunteers with the backlog of deferred maintenance work and other underfunded projects. A steering committee was formed consisting of US Forest Service personnel, wilderness outfitters, non-profit environmental educators, motorized and non-motorized club members, forest scientists and forest users. The steering committee worked for nearly a year to build a consensus among a broad range forest interests on the goals of this organization.

Mission: To promote stewardship of the Superior National Forest by engaging volunteers and partner organizations in recreation and natural resource projects.

Find our most recent newsletter here.

Meet the Board

Laurel Wilson - Executive Director

Grand Marais, MN

As the Executive Director of the Northwoods Volunteer Connection, Laurel coordinates with the US Forest Service and other partner organizations to plan and schedule projects in addition to recruiting and organizing volunteers. Her background is in natural area restoration and invasive plant management. Laurel was happy to return to her home state of Minnesota in 2014 after spending time exploring other areas of the country for work and school. In her spare time, Laurel enjoys spending time on the trail with her dog, Porter.


John Wytanis - Board Chair

Tofte, MN

After 32 years with the US Forest Service, John retired in 2013 having last served as Tofte District Ranger on the Superior National Forest. Since retirement, John spends as much time as he can outdoors enjoying more fishing, hiking, camping, skiing, sailing, and volunteering for just about any cause or need.  His latest volunteer endeavor is working to get Northwoods Volunteer Connection up and running as a viable partner organization in northeast Minnesota, connecting public land managers and potential volunteers to get needed work done on our public lands.


Betsy Blaisdell - Secretary/Treasurer

Grand Marais, MN

Betsy is a former Wilderness Ranger with the Superior National Forest. She now works as a manager of another local non-profit organization - the Cook County YMCA. 




Sven Hoaglund - Board Member

Lutsen, MN


AndY Jenks - Board Member

Stillwater, MN

Andy serves on the Board of the Northwood Volunteer Connection and has over 40 years’ experience in outdoor navigation. Andy teaches graduate and undergraduate courses at the University in Geographic Information Systems (GPS) and Global Position Systems (GPS). Andy serves as the President of the Banadad Trail Association, a major cross-country ski trail along the Gunflint Trail near Grand Marais, MN. Andy also is avid wilderness paddler and kayaker with many wilderness trips in the US and Canada. Andy also serves on the Board of the John Francis Foundation, a non-profit which focused on wilderness safety education and rescue. 


John McClure - Board Member

Grand Marais, MN

John is an active member of the Cook County ATV Club as well as the Arrowhead Coalition for Multiple Use.


Jesse Walters - Board Member

Little Marais, MN

Jesse is a Little Marais, MN resident, engineer and President/CEO of various technical startups in Minnesota and abroad.  He enjoys mountain biking, kayaking, fishing, dog sledding, hiking, cross country skiing and motorcycling the Minnesota Northwoods.  He hopes to build NVC capabilities through collaborative efforts between motorized and non-motorized volunteers.