Elsa Litecky inspires the next generation of naturalists.
Elsa Litecky has enjoyed the beauty of the natural world since she could start climbing tree stumps. That early passion inspired her career as a naturalist—with a long term plan to conduct research in northern Minnesota. But she quickly fell in love with connecting people to nature. “It was my third year in [as a naturalist], and I needed to develop more skills so that I could be more marketable and also so I could be a better teacher,” Litecky says. “So I started looking at ways to do it.”
Litecky began by making blog posts and YouTube videos as EcoElsa to educate people about nature. “I was both researching how to better do the skills I was doing but also sharing the knowledge that I already had with other people,” she says. “I love connecting people to nature. That’s kind of what got me into being a naturalist instead of heading Up North and doing research.”
As her online presence grew, she received an immense amount of positive feedback and a push for classes—from there she had to choose between her role as a traditional naturalist or taking nature education full-time. Litecky took the leap to turn EcoElsa into a career.
“Basically, my job is to help connect people to the outdoors, and I do this through games and activities, especially with younger kids, but I also do this through hikes and guided tours,” says Litecky, who offers classes through Minnetonka recreation services this summer (fall sessions are being scheduled), as well as others throughout the Twin Cities. “Most of my time is spent outdoors in the field teaching and finding ways of making that material more accessible to people. I love it, and I’m really glad I found it,” she says.
Litecky believes that there is something outdoors for everyone and that is why the motto for EcoElsa is: Teach Anything Outdoors.
“Learning nature helps connect us to the world more, it helps us learn about ourselves more–and when we do this, we have a better understanding of how to protect these things.” she says. “Whether it’s our local park or it’s our environment on a larger scale with the choices we make.”
Connecting to nature also has broader personal and societal benefits. Spending time in nature improves both mental and physical health, Litecky says, and studying nature can lead to scientific breakthroughs that benefit humans through biomimicry. “This all, in turn, can make the world a better place,” she says.
Litecky describes EcoElsa’s classes as “multidisciplinary fun-ducation.” “We develop activities that are not only fun and help people connect to nature but also allow people to learn about other subjects like history, engineering, or art, for example, while practicing soft skills like teamwork, communication and problem-solving,” says Litecky, who has developed more than 30 classes in the past five years.
Each class has several core activities, but Litecky also builds in opportunities for children to pursue their curiosity by voting for their next activity. “Our Outdoor Survival Camps always cover getting lost safety and guidelines, shelter building, fire making, water filtering and orienteering,” she says. “Then we have several additional activities, like basic first aid, edible and poisonous plants, knot tying or wildlife tracking that the kids then vote on to pick what we will do next.”
Her current plan for EcoElsa is to polish up her curriculum and create a scholarship program for people to attend her classes because learning about nature is for everyone, she says.
When Litecky is not teaching, she spends her time outdoors, hiking, reading or just exploring. “One of the benefits of EcoElsa is I am always getting to explore new parks,” she says.
For registration details, visit minnetonkamn.gov.