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Belwin Conservancy Celebrates 50 Years of Outdoor Education

In Megan Hall’s 7th grade science class at Open World Learning Community (OWL), the students are learning about what species live in Minnesota, and the biomes that those species live in. At Belwin Outdoor Science, they get to observe those species and biomes firsthand.

About 20 minutes east of Saint Paul, Belwin Conservancy has served as a gateway to the outdoors for Saint Paul Public Schools students since 1971. Over 10,000 SPPS students visit Belwin every year for a day of outdoor science, including every 3rd and 5th grader in the district, as well as students in other grades and SPPS programs.

“My favorite part of coming out here is really just seeing the place; it’s so mesmerizing,” said Nico, a 7th grader at OWL. He and his classmates got to explore the prairie, looking for animals and signs they have left on the landscape, like a pair of holes in the dirt created by a ground squirrel. They discussed and logged their findings, which will be part of a phenology calendar the students work on throughout the school year.

“It’s so meaningful for students to meet the species they’re going to be studying in real life,” said OWL teacher Megan Hall. “They’re seeing the species in its native habitat and having a meaningful connection, so that hopefully throughout their lives they care about red pines or burr oaks or stink bugs and want to be part of conservation and stewardship for our wild species here in Minnesota.”

In addition to the prairie, the 1,500-acre Belwin Conservancy features deciduous and coniferous forests, a pond, stream and wetland areas, 8 miles of trails, a classroom building and the Casby Observatory. The preserve is also home to a herd of bison that can be seen from an observation platform as they roam the restored prairie.

For some kids, a visit to Belwin may be one of their first experiences spending time in the outdoors. “A lot of our students in Saint Paul Public Schools are afraid to be immersed in nature,” said Josh Leonard, the program’s education director. “The same kids that are scared when they arrive are suddenly saying when they’re leaving, ‘This is the best field trip ever, can I work here, this is like heaven, can I live here?’ Watching that transition every day never gets old.”

On Saturday, October 9, Belwin Conservancy is hosting an open house to commemorate its 50th anniversary. The event is open to the public and will include hands-on science activities, performances, guided hikes and more. Learn more at belwin.org.