If you’re standing in Woodbury’s Central Park, it may seem like quite the distance to a great hiking trail or one of the largest telescopes in the state. But just 15 minutes away from Woodbury lies both of these and more, at the Belwin Conservancy.
Belwin Conservancy has over 1,400 acres of diverse biomes that visitors can hike, ski, snowshoe or walk your dog on a leash 365 days out of the year. All that, as close as a trip to the grocery store.
“You really feel like you are in middle of nowhere when you are out on our trails, when in reality you are so close to Woodbury, St. Paul and Hudson. You really feel like you’re in the wilderness,” Katie Bloome, executive director of Belwin Conservancy, says.
Belwin Conservancy was created in 1971, when Charles Bell and Lucy Winton Bell wanted to find a way for people to experience nature on their land. But the conservancy itself hasn’t been open to the public long. Originally, it was a place for providing education to St. Paul schools. But it has grown into a full-fledged public park with frog walks, owl prowls and bonfires. And around 10,000 students from both St. Paul and Stillwater schools make the journey every year to learn about nature.
“We look for ways to get people outside so that people can really form those connections to nature for their own health and well-being, as well as the health and well-being of the environment,” Bloome says.
One of the cool things that happens at Belwin Conservancy—and there are many—is the Belwin bison festival. For 12 years, Belwin has partnered with Northstar Bison, a company that brings its livestock to the prairie every year to graze. The best part? Visitors can come watch as the 1,000-pound animals thunder off the trucks and onto their summer home. The conservancy also features a bison observation tower, eco art activities, music and a 5k run.
“The prairie that the bison are on has more diversity of plant life and bird life than any of our other prairies because of the bison. It’s really a great thing for our land restoration,” Bloome says.
Visitors who aren’t looking to watch bison are in luck—10 years ago, one of the largest telescopes in the state was installed on the conservancy as a partnership with the Minnesota Astronomical Society. And to celebrate the decade-long milestone, Belwin is hosting a lunar party on June 27, when the moon will be so bright, visitors will be able to see it during the day.
Bloome says her favorite thing about the conservancy is taking time to watch as nature changes one spot from season to season, and how the beauty is reflected through the seasons. “It’s really powerful. It helps me slow down a little bit, and it helps me to remember why I do the work that I do,” she says.
Belwin is committed to teaching the suburbs and the city why nature is valuable, and how to coexist with our wonderful natural world. Spending time out in nature, they think, is the best way to appreciate what we have and learn how to take care of it.
“I truly believe that the thing that’s going to save our earth is getting people outside so that we all have that connections with nature, so that we all value it, and so that we all can feel connected to it and take care of it for the future,” Bloome says.
Find out more about Belwin Conservancy, and when you should show up to get the best seats for this year’s bison festival, on their website.
Revision: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Belwin Conservancy's lunar party, slated for June 27, has been cancelled.