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 [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. 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 chose the latter and took the leap to turn EcoElsa into a career.
“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,” she says.
“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 Edina Parks & Recreation, 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.”
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,” she says. “It helps us learn about ourselves more—and when we do this, we have a better understanding of how to protect these things, whether it’s our local park or it’s our environment on a larger scale with the choices we make.”
But it also has broader personal and societal benefits. Litecky says spending time in nature improves both mental and physical health, 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.” She has developed more than 30 classes in the past five years. “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,” she says.
Each class has several core activities, but Litecky also builds in opportunities for children to pursue their own 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.”
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, noting that Arden and Walnut Ridge parks in Edina are two of her favorites.