A Magical Wilderness Experience

Ashley Bredemus ’14 left engineering to run a boys’ camp deep in the woods.

Ashley Bredemus speaks in front of group of boys in the wilderness

Bredemus provides life lessons in the back of beyond at Birchwood Wilderness Camp. Courtesy of Ashley Bredemus

Most of the year, outdoorswoman Ashley Bredemus ’14 loves a warm beanie hat. Peak-color fall days call for a wide-brim fedora. But in summer, when the all-boys Birchwood Wilderness Camp is in full swing, Bredemus wears any hat necessary.

She’s a camp owner, director, and year-round resident, so any given day could mean she’s answering phones, hauling supplies, or bandaging the knees of young adventurers.

“We are all pitching in to make it the most magical experience for those kids,” Bredemus says.

No road leads to this particular magical spot. Accessible only by boat, the land is near the Canadian border in the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area, down the Sea Gull River, two miles past the end of the Gunflint Trail. (The nearest city, Grand Marais, Minnesota, is 55 miles away.)

Bredemus joined her dad in purchasing this family business in 2020, after she left a career in mechanical engineering.

“One of my instructors told me having an engineering degree really just means you have a problem-solving degree,” Bredemus says.

Inevitably, life in the woods means it’s her job to find solutions.

Birchwood reopened for summer 2021, hosting some 100 boys over several sessions. This year, campers were packing post-lockdown energy and wildly ready for fun — hello, 250-foot waterslide.

But it’s important to Bredemus that the rustic, cellphone-free experience also provides life lessons, such as self-esteem and communication skills, as campers plan trail routes, pitch tents, and learn to hang a bear bag.

“You go to this place where everything is just snapped into crystal-clear focus, all these distractions gone,” she says. “It’s a perspective that lets you be a kid and learn about who you really are.”

In just two years, she’s seen Birchwood through a global pandemic, threatening wildfires, and an autumn wedding — her own. In their first year of married life, Bredemus and her husband, Victor Pilon, are camp codirectors and living in their historic, 200-square-foot cabin, the Pepper Shack.

Winter there, she says, is a “mostly off-grid lifestyle.” Electricity and Wi-Fi, yes; but no running water, just an outhouse and a wood-burning stove. (Winter prep includes bringing in loads of firewood by barge.) They cozy up with two cats and their Shiloh shepherd, Arlo. She’s both trusty camp dog and social-media muse for Bredemus’s Instagram and blog, The Cabin Season.

For Bredemus, winter is her prized time for writing and photography about redefining life as an outdoorswoman and celebrating the area’s abundant natural beauty. “This is definitely one of my soul places,” she says.

Published in the Spring 2022 issue

Tags: Alumni, outdoorswomen, summer camp, wilderness camps

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