Will Steger's castle in the clouds

The world's greatest Arctic explorer unveils his greatest challenge yet

"I get a lot of college kids up here with a $100,000 degree, and they think they can oil a building when it's wet," Steger says. "But once they get a sense of building a stone wall and see, 'Oh, I can do that,' then they learn that they can do more."

The castle isn't meant to be merely a physical structure. Once it's done, Steger plans to give the building away to a trust and focus on the programming. He wants to formalize his apprenticeships into accredited college courses, and bring out technical students to study solar installation. He wants politicians to see how he manages the forest, and how he heats the buildings without using any carbon.

Above all, he wants the future Steger Center to be a place that inspires people to think differently.

Steger in front of the castle's Saturn window, which he crafted to reflect his love of astronomy
Steger in front of the castle's Saturn window, which he crafted to reflect his love of astronomy


The Minneapolis College of Art and Design will present Steger's designs, including the Will Steger Wilderness Center for Innovation and Leadership, in the free exhibit "Inside an Explorer's Mind: Survival, Innovation, Design." Sept. 14 to Oct. 6, with a talk by Steger on Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. and a reception with Steger on Oct. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. 2501 Stevens Ave., Minneapolis; 612-874-3667.

"I believe inspiration is only possible in a wilderness setting," Steger says. "I don't think you can do this in a resort where you have all the amenities and a TV to go back to in your room."

But while Steger is eager to move on to "phase two of this creation," as he puts it, he's also begun to blur the lines between the stages. The building might be unfinished, but it is already a place where people come to learn.

"Will very much understands that the vision is the journey," says Gasperini. "It's funny, I meet people of all ages who have worked for Will at the Homestead. I would be so curious to know the number of people whose lives have been changed working for Will."

Peter Wahlstrom, a philosophy professor, has seen that kind of change in action. "My students come back after one weekend changed in the heart," says Wahlstrom, who has brought about 200 students up to Homestead over six years. "It's like an injection of consciousness for them, and it's immediate. I can't do that in a whole semester."

At the end of August, Steger turned 69. It's the kind of occasion that causes a man to reflect on what he will leave behind.

"You know, I didn't have kids, and I never had this thing that I had to pass on something," he says after lunch, sitting on one of a dozen mismatched old armchairs in a circle outside the Lodge. "But I hope this will work out in this direction."

"I had no idea it would take 23 years, but to tell you the truth, I never thought about it in those terms," Steger continues, jumping up and heading back up the hill toward the castle. "I just did it."

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