Inspiring Connections Across Belwin

By Susan Haugh, Belwin Conservancy Program Manager

From the Fall 2017/Winter 2018 issue of The Meadowlark

When I applied for the amazing job of program manager at Belwin, I was asked to review our 21st Century Master and Strategic Plan and recommend next steps using the arts to help Belwin communicate its mission: Inspiring our connection to the natural world.

The Master Plan focuses on four sites where programming exists and where Belwin would like to develop new programming: Bell Oak Savanna, which contains the Education Center that is visited each year by more than 10,000 Saint Paul Public School and Stillwater School District students; Croixview Prairie, site of the bison prairie and the Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields; Stagecoach Prairie, our beautifully restored, publicly accessible walking prairie; and the Creative Center, which will be located on Belwin’s land between Shephard of the Valley Church on Hudson Road and Indian Trail South.

Making recommendations was daunting at first but quickly taught me a lot about Belwin. Specifically, it helped me see what’s different about Belwin from other land management nonprofits: Belwin doesn’t just focus on protecting and restoring ecologically important lands; it aims to restore these lands in order to help people make meaningful connections with the natural world around them.

At Belwin, we have 1,364 acres and a wide array of potential experiences for the public. The challenge for the staff at Belwin is helping to communicate the larger purpose of Belwin to the visitors who only know us from visiting one of our properties.

Take the Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields (LWBAF) as an example. Each year, there are an estimated 150,000 visits to these fields to play sports like football, baseball and soccer, or watch athletes compete. When they drive into the complex, however, it is not at all clear that they are at Belwin Conservancy, nor do they see how the fields are related to our larger purpose.

We commonly hear from LWBAF visitors that they had no idea the fields were owned and supported by Belwin, or that the fields are surrounded by restored prairie with walking trails and a bison herd!

We have traditionally talked about Belwin in a way that compartmentalizes the experience: bison are on the prairie to perform restoration; education takes place only at the Education Center. In fact, bison are not just about fulfilling our mission to perform land restoration; they’re also part of the educational experience for people of all ages.

So what are our next steps? This year I had the good fortune to work with landscape architects Jim Hagstrom from Savanna Designs and Regina Flanagan, also a public art advisor, to complete a Conceptual Site Plan for the Creative Center.

Now I am completing funding plans for all four sites and, together with the staff and board, prioritizing facilities so we can move forward with design and development. I am excited to begin working on enhanced programming and looking at ways to ensure that all visitors to Belwin have an informed and complete picture of who we are and what we do, right from the moment they enter one of our spaces.

I invite you to learn more at our Winter Solstice Bonfire on December 20, 2017.

Read the next article in The Meadowlark: A Force for Good: Meet Steve Martin, Belwin Volunteer

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