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BELWIN CONSERVANCY Annual Report 2020

Inspiring connection and engagement with the natural world

2020 FINANCIALS

*Includes funds obtained in 2020 to be spent in subsequent years; Complete audited financial statements can be found on our website at belwin.org/about/reports

Dear Friends,

When I reflect on certain times in my life, I often see change driven internally – by myself, the team I’m working with, or a carefully laid-out strategic plan. In 2020, our changes were driven by external factors, most notably the pandemic and the racial reckoning that followed the murder of George Floyd. Both seem to have touched us all and will have a lasting impact.

When we were thrust into the unknown last spring, so many of us found solace in something that never changes – the power of nature. We were drawn outside seeking comfort, health, community, stability, and hope. And we found those things in prairies, forests, and even our neighborhood wildlife.

We also persisted. At Belwin, we found new ways of teaching, connecting, and stewarding. Instead of losing ground, we gained. And you are a part of that success. Whether it was through a donation, volunteering your time, a kind email of encouragement, a visit to our trails, or just staying connected in a season of isolation, your support carried us forward.

We now move into Belwin’s 50th year with momentum, and I can’t wait to share the path ahead with you.

With high hopes and gratitude,

Executive Director

CONSERVATION

There is a backstory attached to every piece of land at Belwin. It is generally one of love for the land, long-nurtured relationships, and a shared vision for what the land could mean to the creatures who experience it in its natural state.

2020 was big for Belwin in terms of conservation. Last year, Belwin permanently protected 97 additional acres through donations, community partnerships, acquisitions, and easements. Also, thanks to the Outdoor Heritage Council, three large-scale restorations continued at Belwin in 2020. These will result in 196 acres of healthy habitat in the years to come.

Living in a pandemic year laid bare for all of us the immense value of our natural areas. We are grateful to our funders and donors, who, even in the face of uncertainty, give Belwin the resources for their ongoing care, protection, and use by the community.

Photo: Jeff Anderson, AJ Photography MN

Sharing Restored Ecosystems

Building better infrastructure

By the spring of 2020, visits to Belwin’s public trails were triple what they were the year before. So throughout the year, we improved infrastructure across Belwin to accommodate the increased demand for time outside.

Thanks to the help of several generous donors, we gave the Bison Prairie some extra care. This is a favorite spot for many visitors, and also the parking area for hikers at Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields. Improvements ranged from parking lot maintenance to a rebuild of our iconic Bison Tower, seen under construction here.

Those who've visited the tower know there is no better place to experience the dynamic role bison play on the tallgrass prairie. With expanded stairs and two viewing decks, it will reopen in spring 2021, just in time for the return of the herd!

Sharing Restored Ecosystems

Building better infrastructure

Apparently if you're a bison, traditional hogwire fencing is a nice place for a back scratch. It can cause trouble, however, for smaller neighbors like deer. As part of our work at the Bison Prairie, wildlife-friendly electric fencing was installed around half of the 160-acre parcel, with the rest to be completed in the spring of 2021. This improved fencing is not only stronger, it's safer for smaller wildlife to pass through.

Bison photos: Jeff Anderson, AJ Photography MN

Thank you

We are grateful to all those who supported upgrades to our Bison Prairie in 2020:

  • Gordon Andersson
  • Anonymous
  • Heinrich and Pat Bantli
  • Vicki Donatell
  • David Hartwell
  • Connie Hess
  • Joanne & Bradley Kletscher
  • Deborah Reynolds
  • Penelope Scialla
  • Tom & Sharon Simpson
  • Tom Youngblood

OUTREACH

Something special happens in a concert hall during the collective breath at the end of a symphony. The same could be said of a group of moonlit hikers experiencing the first calls of a barred owl at Kettelkamp Prairie. These shared moments leave a mark. They connect us to something bigger – art, nature, each other.

We all missed the magic of those moments last year. In a typical year, Belwin hosts up to 70 events and interpretive programs designed to bring people closer to the natural world. In 2020, we took a pause. Instead, we found ways to share our spaces with new partners, and we redesigned our website so more people could discover our public trails. We designed a more streamlined volunteer experience, and gave our digital infrastructure a much-needed upgrade.

We eagerly await the return of those magic communal moments, and look forward to seeing you on the trail again in the months ahead!

Sharing Belwin Spaces

"The support couldn’t come at a better time during the pandemic.”

– Pam Christopherson, American Red Cross

A Belwin volunteer greets blood donors as they arrive.

Instead of hosting regular field trips, Belwin's Education Center hosted blood drives in the spring and fall of 2020. One American Red Cross staff member noted how relaxing it was to be there for the day, taking a walk around Kettelkamp Prairie and sitting on the porch during her break. Thanks to dozens of donors and several Belwin volunteers, the Red Cross collected enough blood to help over 300 people in need of transfusions.

Sharing Belwin Spaces

Giving performers and audiences a safe place to come together

Throughout 2020, outside often felt like the safest place to be, and for many performing arts organizations, that meant finding unconventional places to share their work.

Last August, ArtReach St. Croix and St. Croix Festival Theatre took the show on the road, bringing a staged reading of the play Silent Sky to Belwin's Joseph J. Casby Observatory. It was a fitting setting for the play about groundbreaking astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, and also an exciting way to celebrate the observatory's tenth year of inspiring stargazers at Belwin.

Read more about the Joseph J. Casby Observatory and Belwin's partnership with the Minnesota Astronomical Society in the 2020 Spring & Summer issue of the Meadowlark.

Photo by Laurie Schneider

EDUCATION

In a normal year, each weekday at Belwin brings a bus full of excited children to the Education Center. They’re welcomed by Belwin Outdoor Science (BOS) staff to begin a day filled with field experiments and curious questions. In the words of one student, "it's like science, but way cooler."

Those visits were put on hold last March. Instead, over 6,500 Saint Paul Public School children participated in BOS's Virtual Field Trips in 2020. These carefully adapted lessons teach science standards while also encouraging kids to connect with nature in their own neighborhoods.

Each eager observation of hawks in trees and birds' nests on balconies received individual feedback from a BOS instructor. As one classroom teacher noted, “The student response was great...you helped to stretch their minds, and your attention lavished on them is like water on a thirsty plant.”

Photo: 3rd Grader, Capitol Hill School

Nurturing Curiosity About Nature

Teaching children with special needs during a pandemic

Did you know that Belwin is home to one of the first programs to provide outdoor science education to students with special needs? Since 1975, this program has been giving students with physical, sensory, cognitive, and emotional needs the opportunity to experience and learn about nature.

Due to the pandemic, Cathy Smith, BOS Teacher on Special Assignment, has spent the last year bringing Belwin's prairies, ponds, and woodlands to her students virtually. Taking into account the needs of all her at-home learners, Cathy encapsulates her lessons in online tours and YouTube videos.

Photos: Cathy Smith, Saint Paul Public Schools

Nurturing Curiosity About Nature

Pre-pandemic, children gather water samples from the creek

Each day, Cathy provides virtual instruction to students ranging in age from 5 to 21. Younger children might be taken on walks along the stream while being read “The Mitten” by Jan Brett. Older students might participate in an experiment on the insulating power of feathers and leaves.

The digital lessons transport you to Belwin’s special spots, where you can’t help but wonder, “Just how thick is the ice in the pond? And what’s living under there anyway?” Watch a lesson yourself:

Credits:

Jeff Anderson/AJ Photography MN, Belwin Outdoor Science, Dana Boyle, The Chimzar Family, Connie Hess, Greg Seitz, Laurie Schneider, Cathy Smith, The Stickan/Johnson Family