Faces of Duluth: Cheryl Skafte

Cheryl Skafte stands outside in Duluth in front of trees, with her hands in the pocket of a Keep Duluth Clean hooded sweatshirt

Faces of Duluth tells the stories of the people behind Duluth’s iconic attractions, hidden gems and everything in between. Faces of Duluth provides the locals’ tips and tricks for seeing all the city has to offer.

Cheryl Skafte loves Duluth. And Lake Superior. This is the driving force behind her work with Keep Duluth Clean, a volunteer-led organization that encourages people to pick up litter where they live, work and play. A seemingly simple act – picking up trash – has a huge impact on the natural resources that bring visitors and residents alike to the Zenith City: It protects Lake Superior, while also creating a better experience for all who recreate here.

What’s your Duluth story?

I lived most of my childhood in Fredenberg, Minn., a small township about 30 minutes outside of Duluth. But my family owned a business in downtown Duluth, so I feel like I grew up here. As a young person in Duluth, I dreamed of moving away and living in a bigger city. So, after high school, I went to college in the Twin Cities and then moved on to progressively bigger cities after I graduated, including Baltimore and New York City. I moved back to Duluth in 2004 to help plan my sister’s wedding. I thought I’d be here for six months and then move back to the east coast. That never happened and now nearly 20 years later, my roots are well-established in this wonderful community. 

What are the different professional hats you’ve worn in Duluth?

My first job, as a high schooler, was at the Duluth Children’s Museum. I had fabulous mentors at the Museum who instilled in me a love of education, service and youth development. After moving back to Duluth in 2004, I worked in the non-profit sector for the Duluth Area Family YMCA and the Head of the Lakes United Way. In 2012, I started my decade-long career with the City of Duluth in the Parks Department. When I started with Parks, I assumed the work was going to be all about flowers and trees. What I discovered is that I spent a lot of time talking about garbage and bathrooms. It was during my time with the city that I became passionate about waste management and litter reduction. Most recently, in January 2023, I transitioned to a new role at the University of Minnesota Duluth where I currently serve as the Public Engagement Coordinator. 

Tell us about Keep Duluth Clean.

Keep Duluth Clean is a community, volunteer-led initiative that encourages people to pick up litter where they live, work and play. Since 2020, Keep Duluth Clean has promoted community clean-up events throughout the spring and summer. Since its inception, thousands of volunteers have removed tons of trash from boulevards, creeks, parks and beaches.    

Why is sustainability important to you? 

Duluth is essentially one big watershed – eventually every piece of litter will make its way to our great Lake Superior. Protecting the lake is one of my priorities. Efforts to remove trash and litter from our watersheds not only keeps Duluth beautiful, but it helps keep our water clean.

Why should visitors and residents care about keeping Duluth clean?

Duluth is widely known for its territorial assets – abundant open space, acres upon acres of forest and, of course, the largest body of freshwater in the world – all right in our backyard. With one simple action – picking up litter – visitors and residents can make a big difference in the ongoing fight to preserve Duluth’s environment and resources.

What can visitors and residents do to help keep Duluth clean?

Keep Duluth Clean is seeking individuals, families and groups who are willing to “take the pledge” to pick up litter where they live, work and play. You can do this by joining an organized community clean-up or by taking small, daily actions, like bringing a grocery bag with you and filling it with litter on a walk. 

What do you love about Duluth? 

I love that the arts and culture scene is just as abundant as our natural resources. You can have an adventure in a world-class outdoor space during the day and then spend your evening taking in a play, musical, opera, ballet or symphony. I love that you can eat local, like locally smoked fish at Northern Waters Smokehaus, and drink local, like a homemade fancy cocktail at Vikre Distillery, and shop local, like at the gift shop at Dovetail Café and Marketplace. 

And the lake. Have I mentioned the lake yet?  

What do you enjoy doing in Duluth?

Nothing beats the “perfect Duluth day” when the sun is shining, the temperature is comfortable and the lake is just shimmering. I enjoy walking on the Lakewalk with a good friend, drinking a Light Lager at the Bent Paddle taproom, running Grandma’s Half-Marathon every June and jumping in Lake Superior.  

I am also very active in the local community theater scene in Duluth and over the years have had the opportunity to perform, teach and direct a wide variety of plays. Duluth’s theater arts scene is amazing. We have multiple theaters that offer everything from big, large-scale musicals to intimate, black box plays. My upcoming show is called “POTUS” and will be presented at the Zeitgeist Theater from May 30 – June 8, 2024. 

What do you like to do/where do you like to go in Duluth with out-of-town visitors? 

My favorite thing to do with out-of-town visitors is hike a Duluth trail. I live within walking distance to the Chester Park trails, and those are among my favorites. If I really like my out-of-town visitor, I may take them to my favorite, local beach access. It’s a bit of a hidden gem, located in the Lakeside neighborhood at 42nd Avenue East. There is a huge rock about 50 feet out in the water that you can swim out to and jump off. 

Posted on April 15, 2024