Protecting a natural legacy

Eden Prairie / Minnetonka, Minnesota
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Reconnecting to real nature
Reconnecting to real nature
By Steve Hobbs, Executive Director, Belwin, Spring, 2008

Note from Jeff Strate:
Belwin is a non-profit organization that restores the lands and waters it owns and manages near Afton, Minnesota and works to restore the human connection to the natural world. Belwin's 1,300 acres of prairie, wetlands, lakes, forests and streams provide a unique setting that gives scientists, educators, artists and St. Paul and Stillwater School District students, the opportunity to investigate the complex interactions of man and nature. This slightly abridged perspective is excerpted with permission from the Spring 2008 edition of “The Belwin Messenger” as “Director’s Message.”

Recently, The Nature Conservancy funded the most comprehensive study thus far on nature recreation. The lead author, Oliver Pergams, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, described the results as “almost terrifying”. The study showed that there has been a fundamental and profound shift away from visiting nature. They found that between 1981 and 2007 there was a steady decline in per capita nature recreation of about 1% per year. This erosion in interest for things outdoors has been matched by an increasing degree of “videophilia” in our youth where their innate curiosity about their surroundings is no longer satisfied through exploring our natural world. Lest you think this is just a symptom of changing American values, the study found similar trends in nations all over the world.

Paradoxically, while people go outside less there has been an increased awareness in the past decade about our effect on the global climate and how our decisions can damage the life-sustaining systems we depend upon. Studies show that people are much more attuned to their role in the environment and how their day-to-day choices can have a profound impact on the world we will leave to future generations.

So, how do we reconcile these two issues? How do we get people back on the land and tangibly connect them with their desire to be responsible about the environment? How do we create a culture that cherishes nature?

I think we have part of the answer at Belwin. Every visitor I’ve met (in what will soon be my first year at Belwin) has the same reaction: they can’t believe such a beautiful and peaceful place exists so close to the Twin Cities. We provide a unique setting that allows people to immerse themselves in quiet unlike the busier nature centers and state parks.

The challenge for us is to provide this sense of solitude while still getting people out to Belwin. Having completed most of our land and water management plans as well as our five-year strategic plan, we have a good sense where visitation will be conducive to our restoration goals yet still provide a unique experience for our visitors. Starting this summer, we are going to open a selected portion of Belwin (separate from the trail system around the Environmental Education Center) to visitation by all members. A small parking lot (roughly five cars) will limit the number of visitors and will only be open during daytime hours. This will be an experiment, but one worth pursuing so we can meet our goals for public outreach but still preserve what makes Belwin special.

Your support over the years has put Belwin in the position to expand upon our success, to spread the word about what makes Belwin such a great place. We invite you to visit Belwin more than you may have in the past.

Belwin can, with your assistance, be the place that connects people to nature. Thank you again for all your help! Steve Hobbs, Executive Director.

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