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Favorites on Friday: Conservation Alliance Midwest Tour

April 18, 2012 by John Sterling

Conservation Alliance Executive Director John Sterling here, fresh off a quick tour of Minnesota and Western Michigan, where I visited three member companies and enjoyed a solid dose of the famous Midwest hospitality. My first stop was Minneapolis, where I made a presentation to our newest member company, Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day. It was great to meet the Mrs. Meyer's crew in their brand-new offices right next to Target Field (I missed the Twins' home opener by one day). CEO Kevin Rutherford leads a dedicated crew that asked a ton of questions about The Conservation Alliance and our grantees. We're excited to have this great company on board!

Mrs. Meyers offices in the shadow of Target Field in Minneapolis.

My next stop was Red Wing, Minnesota, on the banks of the Mississippi River, one hour downstream from the Twin Cities. My primary goal was to meet with employees of member company Vasque, a brand of the Red Wing Shoe Company. I arrived the afternoon before my presentation and got a tour of Red Wing (the town) from Bill Sweasy, the third-generation leader of the family-owned company. Red Wing is a well-preserved river town. Downtown is full of authentic, brick storefronts, and the river features steamboats and riverside grain elevators. At the center of it all is Red Wing Shoes (known to locals as "The Shoe"). Bill led us on a hike up Barn Bluff, which offers a birds-eye view of the town. He pointed out many parks and historic buildings that the company had helped preserve.

Bill Sweasy on the summit of Barn Bluff in Red Wing.

The following day, I made a presentation to the Vasque crew before joining Vasque Sales Manager Chris Miller on a tour of the Red Wing Shoe Factory #2, a short drive from the head offices. Seeing hundreds of employees building Red Wing boots and shoes made it clear how important this company is to the community. My final stop was to the Red Wing Shoe Flagship Store, which is home to the world's largest boot, a two-story, full-leather boot (size 638 1/2 D).

The world's largest boot.

I ended my tour by flying into Grand Rapids, MI, the urban center nearest Wolverine World Wide, the parent company of Conservation Alliance members Merrell, Chaco, and Patagonia Footwear. Merrell General Manager Seth Cobb rallied a great turnout for my presentation in the company's auditorium. Nearly 100 employees heard about The Conservation Alliance and our efforts to protect wild places throughout North America. Joining me in this presentation was Amy Beyer, Director of Conservation Resource Alliance, one of our grantees. Merrell has twice nominated CRA to submit grant requests to us to support their Boardman River dam removal project. We have funded CRA twice (totaling $65,000) for the project, which aims to remove four dams on the Boardman, which flows through Traverse City, MI. Amy answered many insightful questions from the Wolverine crew, and built a stronger relationship with the company.

 

The Conservation Alliance's greatest strength is that we are a group of companies with different cultures, different geographic locations, and different ways of doing business. The common thread that links them all is a strong commitment to protecting the wild rivers, mountains, deserts, forests and other landscapes so important to people who love the outdoors. It was great to visit a few of our members in a part of the country I don't often see.