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St. Paul company plants 3 millionth tree at new Nisswa resort

Nature Link taking place of former Minnesota Hockey Camps on Clark Lake

Ben Vanden Wymelenberg by Nature Link rendering.JPG
Ben Vanden Wymelenberg talks about his company - Woodchuck USA - planting its 3 millionth tree Friday, April 22, 2022, at his new resort, Nature Link, being constructed on Clark Lake in Nisswa at the longtime former location of Minnesota Hockey Camps.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

NISSWA — On a cold and windy, gray and rainy Earth Day, a Minnesota company planted its 3 millionth tree - in Nisswa.

The mood was festive Friday, April 22, for the group that gathered to plant 10 Norway pines at a new, modern resort taking shape on Clark Lake where the former Minnesota Hockey Camps was located for more than 40 years.

Ben Vanden Wymelenberg is the founder and CEO of Woodchuck USA in St. Paul, a company that designs and manufactures high-end custom wood products and gifts.

For every product sold, the company plants a tree.

Ben Vanden Wymelenberg plants tree at Nature Link.JPG
Ben Vanden Wymelenberg shovels dirt while Robin McDermott, office manager at Woodchuck USA in St. Paul, holds one of 10 Norway pines that were planted Friday, April 22, 2022, at Nature Link Resort on Clark Lake in Nisswa.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

It just so happens that Vanden Wymelenberg and his wife, Zoie, and their business partners, Tony and Kate Becker, bought the former hockey camp property and are developing Nature Link Resort there.

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“There’s something magical that happens when you get your hands dirty and you plant a tree,” Vanden Wymelenberg told the group before the planting began amidst construction at the resort.

He said for those at Woodchuck USA, every time they make, sell or ship a product, “We’re literally planting a tree.”

Woodchuck USA believes in putting nature back into people’s lives, and the same is true of Nature Link Resort. The owners want to connect people with nature.

Nature Link sign.JPG
The entrance to the former Minnesota Hockey Camps on South Clark Lake Road now has a sign for Nature Link Resort, as shown April 22, 2022.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

“Our mission is to impact the world by relentlessly delivering excellent service and helping people reconnect to themselves, nature, and the people around them,” the resort’s website says.

“Our lives have become so reliant on a constant connection with technology. Notifications, screen time, and social media consume our attention as if we are living our lives through a device as opposed to living in the present,” the site says. “We want to offer an experience of disconnecting so that our guests can reconnect with the things that matter most.”

A main lodge that will function as an event center and wedding venue is under construction with an expansive view of Clark Lake, and so far three cabins have been remodeled and are being rented at Nature Link with a few more set to open soon.

Nature Link cabins.JPG
Nature Link cabins in Nisswa, shown April 22, 2022, have a sleek, modern, “clean Scandinavian design.” The resort's goal is to connect people to nature.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

The resort will feature 25 cabins in what Vanden Wymelenberg calls a “clean Scandinavian design” that veers from the lakes area’s traditional up north theme.

While the resort has high speed internet, televisions won’t be installed in the cabins that feature a simple, sleek design.

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There will also be two 8- to 10-unit hotels as part of construction that will take a couple years. The wedding venue, which the Beckers will operate, is set to open in September.

Vanden Wymelenberg noted the resort’s proximity to the Paul Bunyan Trail, reiterating the purpose of connecting people with nature. The resort will have bikes, kayaks and paddleboards for guests, and plans include a walking trail through the 14-acre wooded property.

Jared Smith of The Tree Trust plants tree.JPG
Jared Smith, executive director of Tree Trust, a nonprofit in St. Paul, shows how to properly plant a tree Friday, April 22, 2022, at Nature Link Resort in Nisswa.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

On Earth Day, workers with Tree Trust, a nonprofit in St. Paul, partnered with employees from Woodchuck USA and others to plant the trees on Nature Link property.

“Look around and see the Norway pines that are 50, 60, 70 years old. The trees that we plant today are going to be around a lot longer than most of us here today,” Vanden Wymelenberg said.

He announced Woodchuck USA’s commitment to plant 15 million trees by 2030, and the hope that others pick up the same habits for future generations.

Regarding the 3 millionth tree planted April 22, Vanden Wymelenberg said that’s roughly enough trees to fill up every major sports stadium in the world three times over.

“The next time you go to a ballgame, think, ‘What if this field was literally filled with trees,’” he said.

Pam Dorion.JPG
Lucas Johnson, of Zippo Manufacturing Co., and Pam Dorion, Nisswa Chamber of Commerce president, unwrap a tree planted April 22, 2022, at Nature Link Resort in Nisswa.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

Nancy Vogt, editor, may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.

Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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