Looking back on 2019 brings me great joy. We’ve set a course for more public access and community engagement at Belwin while remaining committed to our historic partnerships and the land we protect. Education programs are thriving and at capacity, more visitors are using our public trails than ever, and we are transforming large areas of degraded habitat into healthy ecosystems. It’s humbling and fills me with hope for the future.
I am most deeply moved when I think of you. You stepped up to help us purchase new machines. You brought new faces to Belwin by sharing our events with family and friends. You volunteered your time to make our events and habitat restoration successful. You gave generously to fund Belwin’s general operations, which supports everything we do. Your engagement, in these ways and others, gives me a deep sense of gratitude, kinship, and shared purpose. I hope you feel it too.
Thank you for being part of a community that values connection to the natural world.
Executive Director, Belwin Conservancy
Land conservation and stewardship will always be at the heart of Belwin’s work. But what begins as trust in the potential of roots and seeds is also a commitment for years to come. To date, over half of Belwin's 1,400 acres have been through an initial restoration. Each of those acres will need diligent care for decades.
Even after an initial restoration, Grecian foxglove can come back to disrupt the prairie ecosystem, and buckthorn can once again overcome tiny oaks on the savanna. Thanks to the support of our community, Belwin can keep that from happening.
We are committed to the ongoing care of all the land we restore. In 2019, member support funded an expanded land staff and much-needed machinery, allowing us to give our restored habitats the attention they require.
Revitalizing and sharing the Creative Center property
Since 2003, Belwin has been working to clear invasive plants and restore biodiversity to our 246-acre Creative Center property. Home to a sprawling oak savanna, one of our region's most threatened native ecosystems, the parcel contains rolling hills, expansive vistas, and wetlands. In the final months of 2019, Belwin embarked on a new phase of this large-scale restoration with a major grant from the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
Photo credit: Sue Steinwall
"Walking in the beautiful rolling hills, woods, and along Valley Creek in that fabulous light...just outstanding."
– Women Walking attendee
This year, Belwin celebrated the Creative Center site with special programs highlighting the restoration of this diverse landscape. One such program is our new guided hike series, Women Walking. We look forward to sharing this space even more in 2020.
Photo credits: Connie Hess and Kate Seitz
PROGRAMS & EVENTS
At Belwin, we believe the best way to connect to nature is by being immersed in it, but that doesn’t always mean taking a hike. It could include making a sculpture out of dirt, or glimpsing Mars through a state-of-the art telescope.
Last year, among the 60+ interpretive hikes and events held at Belwin, our Arts, Culture, and Ecology program provided visitors new avenues for exploring the natural world. Volunteers helped resident artist Rory Wakemup construct a buckthorn bison. Hmong performers shared traditional dance under the pines. Indigenous youth shared stories around a bonfire on the winter solstice.
Magical moments like these can deepen people’s connection to and engagement with nature and each other. We are grateful for the community support that helps us innovate and bring these events to life.
Music in the Trees
Celebrating a beloved pine grove and its transition to a healthier landscape
Our inaugural Music in the Trees event brought hundreds of visitors to Belwin last August, many of them new. Audiences were charmed as they walked through a towering pine grove, encountering music of all kinds played from above by musicians in tree stands!
This annual event will help the community process the eventual loss of an iconic but ailing pine grove, and foster conversations about the importance of ecologically appropriate landscapes.
Photo credits: Ben McGinley
Music in the Trees
"The moment the flutes started playing, the wind started blowing and the birds started singing. I felt a deep connection to the forest around me. Amazing."
The inaugural Music in the Trees featured a diverse array of performers, including guitar, cello, a gospel quartet, Chinese harp, improvised percussion, and a partnership with the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent. Click the video above to hear some of the sounds from the two-day event.
Join us for Music in the Trees again August 15-16, 2020.
Equipped with standards-aligned curricula, trail maps, and a closet full of gently used snow pants, Belwin Outdoor Science staff are always ready to seize whatever learning opportunities nature might present. Depending on the day, schoolchildren might participate in bird banding, kick sled through a snowy forest, or plant prairie seedlings for pollinator friends.
Over 10,000 students and chaperones visited Belwin in 2019. These attendance levels have remained relatively steady for decades, a testament to our partnership with Saint Paul Public Schools and other regional districts.
They are also, however, testament to the limits of Belwin's existing facilities, which are booked to capacity every school year. In the coming years, we will invest in facilities that give even more kids the chance to engage with the natural world, reaffirming our commitment to the next generation of environmental stewards.
Photo credit: Josh Leonard, Belwin Outdoor Science
Getting closer to nature
Much needed improvements in 2019 make nature even easier to access
This year, with community support, Belwin staff built a new floating wetlands dock, revitalized a bird sanctuary, and gave our ADA accessible trails some much-needed improvements. These projects ensure children of all abilities can have up-close encounters with nature, and literally pave the way for more exciting growth just on the horizon.
A New Partnership with Anishinabe Academy
"It's so quiet. I want to live here."
– Anishinabe Academy 5th grader
In 2019, over 70 students from Anishinabe Academy came to Belwin to engage with nature through an Indigenous cultural lens while learning concepts in ecology, science, and math. Led by Dakota and Objibwe Elders, children, teachers, and families explored the biological and cultural significance of the prairie, the stars, and the bison. With proper funding, this partnership will continue, deepening both organizations’ knowledge of our ecosystems and culture.