For many people I knew growing up in Minnesota there was some notion of “up north.” For some people it was camp, others a friend’s or family’s cabin, and others yet it was a relative who lived “up north.” For me it was all of those at one point or another. Up north was a place to go when you needed to get out of the hot city and get in touch with wilderness. This year I went north to work remotely after visiting Wisconsin for a friend’s wedding. The location: St. Germain, Wisconsin. A town of about 1200 people, St. Germain is actually closer to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula than most of the rest of Wisconsin, and slightly closer to Duluth, MN and Superior, WI than any other major cities (it’s still 170 miles from Superior). If this isn’t the definition of remote, it’s close.
Given the demographics, I’m going to guess few other federal employees are working out of this part of Wisconsin. Maybe a Forestry Service employee or two to manage the national forests in the area and a handfull staff the Apostle Islands, and of course the postal service, but not much else. It was certainly a change from the density of federal employees back in D.C. So why do it?
This country is beautiful. I’ve not visited all 50 states (yet) but the biodiversity across this country is incredible and Wisconsin is no exception. The trip from Madison north on highway 51 takes you through prairie land, lake country, and even a couple (short) mountains carved out by ancient glacial rivers. The area around St. Germain sometimes feels like it has more lakes people, but every one we met was a constant reminder of the importance of the work we’re doing in the GSA and the federal government. And yet the majesty of the wilderness surrounding me felt very humbling.
Even though Sue, a bartender we met this week, might not interact with the federal government very often our work has value for her if only indirectly. If the tools we build to make federal procurement easier leads to better highway contracts from the Department of Transportation, then we help Sue get to work on time. If the Forestry Service comes up with an innovation to stop the spread of emerald ash borer, the whole community benefits from healthier trees. It’s this connection that makes working for the GSA a pretty incredible experience. One I hope we can start to tell better.
Our work doesn’t have to be big to be great. It doesn’t have to touch every American’s life to shape communities like St. Germain for the better. It only has to be done and done well.