Through his writing, Aldo Leopold left a legacy of conservation knowledge and philosophy to inspire future generations. In its third year, the Wisconsin Aldo Leopold Writing Contest has challenged high school students to consider Aldo Leopold's fondness for wildness and describe their favorite place in nature and what makes it wild. Read Lucas LoBreglio's (CS13) winning essay. (excerpted from the Aldo Leopold Foundation Newsletter website)
Cherry Hill: My Greatest Classroom
By Lucas LoBreglio
Grade 11, Madison West High School
When I was growing up, I often heard of the many achievements of legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold, and how he helped change the way many people think about nature. While I admired his positive impact on the world, I never fully internalized the true spirit of his writings and his perception of wild land- until I visited a place that brought his literature to life and had profound effects on my character. I owe my sense of adventure, many lifelong friends, and my love of nature to a few hundred square feet of woodland affectionately named “Cherry Hill”.
Located in the lush forests of Richland Center, Wisconsin, on the property of a summer camp called Camp Woodbrooke, Cherry Hill isn’t what first comes to mind when one thinks of wild places. Its forested landscape is bisected by a wide trail and a campsite that are trampled by young children every summer. However, the personal growth I experienced there exemplifies the true power of wild land. I was first brought to the Hill by two camp counselors, beginning a camping trip that would change the course of my entire life. Ten of us, all inexperienced, video-game-obsessed teenagers, were tasked with pitching tents, building fires, preparing meals, and digging latrines. We were all reluctant to do this at first, but after days of practice we learned to appreciate the fulfillment of mastering new skills and the satisfaction of setting up camp and enjoying the beauty of the natural setting after a long day of hiking. The trip lasted two weeks, but my learning experience that began on that hilltop continues to this day.
Deeply inspired, I returned to Cherry Hill the following year. This time, my lessons were not in wilderness skills, but in human compassion. Under a canopy of hardwood trees, my group swapped personal stories around a glowing campfire. I heard of depressions that ended lives, gun violence that shook communities, confessions that destroyed families- things that were never tangible to me as a privileged private school kid. This incredible opportunity to connect deeply with a variety of people made me more compassionate and considerate of the struggles of others.
On my next visit to Cherry Hill, I found myself immersed in one of the greatest books I have ever read: Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. My many experiences on the Hill allowed me to fully understand and internalize Leopold’s Land Ethic and devote myself to living in harmony with our natural spaces and treating the land as an essential part of my community. I went on to attend a semester at Conserve School, train as a volunteer steward for the UW-Madison Arboretum, and became an environmental activist – and all of these essential parts of my life can be traced back to my time spent on Cherry Hill. It is to me as “the Shack” is to Leopold, an unforgettable part of my life that has helped me realize the true beauty and serenity of nature.
Lucas LoBreglio bio picLucas LoBreglio is beginning his senior year at Madison West High School. Spending a life-changing semester at Conserve School shaped his current lifestyle which involves camping, hiking, and volunteering. He hopes to attend a college with a strong environmentalist community and find a career that expresses his love for nature and community-building.