Director's Message: Evolution + Decay = Growth

By Nancy Kafka, Belwin Conservancy Executive Director

From the Fall 2017/Winter 2018 issue of The Meadowlark

The Belwin team watches tadpoles from the newly constructed bridge over Bulrush Slough.

Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on the same day of the same year – February 12, 1809. Each lost their mothers early in their lives – Darwin was eight and Lincoln ten. Both of these remarkable people succeeded because they worked to grow their knowledge. They learned from everything they experienced, and they changed the world.

These two important individuals are reminders that growth takes work, and it’s not always pretty. It must happen when the world is ready, though there will often be resistance. Sometimes growth can even look like decay: for example, when snakes shed their skins, birds their feathers, bison their winter coats, deer their antlers, flowers their petals, and prescribed burns rid the prairie of duff thwarting the march of invasives.

Decay doesn’t just happen in the prairies, savannas, wetlands and woodlands.

For most of Belwin’s existence, growing by acres has been our primary work, starting with 225 acres and a public-school program in 1971 to the current 1,364 acres that host bison, an astronomical observatory, miles of walking trails, and thousands of St. Croix Valley youth playing sports.

In addition, Belwin has 56 buildings and structures and hundreds of pieces of equipment. Over time, everything decays and needs to be restored, replaced, or eliminated. We cull items from our inventory every year, with a goal of a leaner Belwin. We’re very strategic in purchasing, and the team is amazing at keeping things working long after an item’s expiration date.

Speaking of the team, Belwin’s seven full-time, one part-time, and two seasonal employees perform the vast majority of the work needed to keep Belwin functioning. On big or complicated jobs, we contract out for the initial work, but are responsible for the ongoing year-to-year management.

Lately, Land and Facilities Manager Justin Sykora and crew have been busy cataloging everything from tractors and chainsaws to wells, windows, doors and trucks. Program Manager Susan Haugh has been managing the creation of conceptual master plans for Belwin’s primary sites. Development Director Marta McCormack has been organizing events as well as getting the Belwin member and donor database into tip-top shape.

We’ve been doing this painstaking work to identify what we have, learn what needs to be replaced or removed, and to put in place the conditions that will lead to Belwin’s healthy growth. Which brings us to you: our past, present, and future members.

Your investment in Belwin yields impressive results.

People who donate to Belwin are the backbone of our work and provide the basic operating support needed to sustain our work. Belwin has doubled its number of supporters since 2012, and we are working to double it again by our 50th anniversary in 2021 – our goal is 1,000 members who support and enjoy the fruits of this work.

Last year, 467 members gave $87,000. This year we have our sights set on 527 members donating $115,000. Each dollar you give to Belwin Conservancy leverages additional funds from the Belwin Supporting Fund, and new members who donate $1,000 or more have their gift matched dollar for dollar from an anonymous supporter.

Growing members and donors is critical for our long-term sustainability. As you read on, I hope you see that your investment in Belwin makes sense and keeps giving back to you, to other members, to the 10,000 public school students, to the 150,000 visitors to the athletic fields, to the 3,500 and growing folks who hike the trails at Stagecoach Prairie, and all the wildlife habitat protected in perpetuity.

Our growth takes hard work and community support. Please become a member and support Belwin today!

Read the next article in The Meadowlark: Exploring the Concept of “EVOLUTION + DECAY = GROWTH”

Read the previous article in The Meadowlark: Night in Nature 2017