Gull Lake Sailing School partners with Y, loon center, children’s museum

The Gull Lake Sailing School is working with other local nonprofits such as the Brainerd Family YMCA, the Region Five Children’s Museum and the National Loon Center in Crosslake to offer programming, activities or events at the school.

A sign informs people of the location of the Gull Lake Yacht Club and the Gull Lake Sailing School. Submitted photo

The Gull Lake Sailing School is about to get a whole lot busier this summer.

The school will host programs, activities and events for other nonprofits such as the Brainerd Family YMCA, the National Loon Center in Crosslake and the Region Five Children’s Museum.

“We’re really trying to promote these other nonprofits in the area, too, and open our doors a lot more to the whole community to just offer great programs,” said Gull Lake Sailing School Co-President Mary Jetland.

Some of the members of the Brainerd High School Sailing Team pose for a photo with sailboats in the background. Submitted photo / Chris Holmes


Jetland talked to Shane Riffle, CEO of the Brainerd Family YMCA, after a July storm caused an estimated $148,000 in damage to the Y’s facility on Oak Street in Brainerd. She also reached out to him because of gathering restrictions related to the coronavirus and enclosed spaces like a gym.

“We were wondering if we could be of some help giving them a place to come and operate some of their classes. And that turned into this whole conversation about how we should be working together and partnering for both of our organizations,” Jetland said.

Gull Lake Sailing School

The Gull Lake Sailing School (and the Gull Lake Yacht Club) were founded in 1947 and operate from the eastern shores of Gull Lake near Brainerd, a lake where Jetland said many used to take swimming lessons at the yacht club.

“And they were saying, ‘How come we don’t do swimming lessons anymore?’ And I said, ‘Well, I know who to call to see if we can,’” Jetland said of calling Riffle about partnering.

RELATED: Gull Lake Sailing School to host national competitive sailing next year
Riffle said they were signing a memorandum of understanding, so the YMCA could offer swim lessons, fitness classes and other programs at the school’s site along Gull Lake.

“What we learned about being very COVID safe — because of the situation and the layout of our facility — we were like, ‘Even with COVID, we can do a lot of programs because we have such a great outdoor venue and an incredible deck,’” Jetland said.

The new collaboration between the Gull Lake Sailing School and the Brainerd Family YMCA was envisioned as a way of bringing more people to the waterfront school and a way for both nonprofits to reach new people.

“Because of the combination of the waterfront, the ramp down to the lake — we have a great big huge dock, we’ve got a lot of waterfront, we have two very large yards — and so it's really an ideal setup to do a number of different recreational activities,” Jetland said.


The Gull Lake Sailing School's dock extends into the water for easy access. Submitted photo

Brainerd Family YMCA

Several inches of heavy rainfall caused the YMCA’s drop ceiling to fall down in July, and water came rushing in and flooded the structure. Its insurance company denied the claim, and the nonprofit sought help from others such as the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation.

“At the Y, we know that our business model of the future involves collaborative work because we know that we can impact more people when we’re working with either inspired nonprofits and great leaders throughout the community, so it was just a natural fit,” Riffle said.

Shane Riffle is the chief executive officer of the Brainerd Family YMCA. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“Summertime the kids are out in the lakes and rivers and streams and to teach them safety around water and swim lessons in that environment just made sense,” Riffle said of future YMCA programs at the school.

RELATED: Area high school sailing team navigates uncertain waters
The Brainerd Family YMCA plans to offer paddleboat yoga, triathlon training and land-based yoga at the Gull Lake Sailing School besides swimming lessons.


“What I get so excited about is that when we became a full 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we really said we want to open our doors to the community more. And so we’re doing that in a very big way this year,” Jetland said.

Summertime fun

Riffle said the Brainerd Family YMCA will offer a promotional adult membership this summer called “90 Days for $90.”

“You can join the Y for $90 for the entire summer, and then participating in those programs out at the Gull Lake Sailing School or come on into Brainerd and take classes and recreate at the Y as well,” Riffle said.

An aerial view of the Gull Lake Sailing School indicates the size of the facility. Submitted photo

Jetland said, “Giving, you know, seasonal residents who are there an opportunity to join the Y. … And if they’re at YMCA camp at Camp Vanasek they can sign up for sailing camp and then the Y will be bringing them to our facility.”

Camp Vanasek, located on the banks of Whipple Lake, teamed up with the Brainerd Lakes YMCA Summer Day Camp Program starting in the summer of 2020.

“Kids who are at Camp Vanasek can come out starting Aug. 9, or the 16th, or the 23rd. There’ll be three weeks of sailing school that’s specifically for Y kids,” Jetland said.


Looney, museum

The Gull Lake Sailing School will also host a new child-focused class, lakeside or on the lake, taught by the National Loon Center in Crosslake about the Minnesota state bird. The “Loon Lab” classes begin June 25, and it's every other Friday for five weeks, according to Jetland.

“The cost is $50 per class, and I think if we’re not on the boat for the class, that price will probably drop,” Jetland said. “We’re having our members host the class on their pontoons. And kids are going to be learning about loon habitat and water quality and all that good stuff.”

RELATED: Lum Park ruled out for Region Five Children’s Museum
Jetland said some Gull Lake Sailing School supporters are also sponsors of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center. Established in 1974 as part of the College of Veterinary Medicine, The Raptor Center treats around 1,000 sick and injured raptors annually in its clinic.

“We contacted the new Children’s Museum and told them we have the Minnesota Raptor Center coming and asked would they like to put together a program for young children that they’re gearing their programs to, in conjunction with the birds,” Jetland said of the July 10 open house.

Chris McEachron is the program manager of the Region Five Children's Museum. Submitted photo

Museum Program Manager Chris McEachron said, “What we’re planning on doing is having an area where we can get into some bird-watching techniques and observational skills in a play-based environment.”

The Raptor Center trains veterinary students and veterinarians from around the world to become future leaders in raptor medicine and conservation, according to its website.


McEachron said he hopes to bring examples of bird feathers to the free “Family Fun Day” on July 10 at the Gull Lake Sailing School.

“One of the really cool things about The Raptor Center is obviously you can see all these really neat birds. But for obvious reasons, there’s not a lot of tactile engagement, kids can’t touch those birds,” McEachron said.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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