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Belwin Conservancy offers bison, trails and sports on 1,364 acres

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OUR PARKS

Bulletin staff will check out some of the area’s parks in the coming months.

This week: Belwin Conservancy, just east of Stagecoach Trail South, on 11th Street South in Afton

Born: 1971

Size: 1,364 acres

While the primary intent of this summer parks series is to highlight the many parks found in Woodbury, there are a number of other parks in the area that might make for a fun weekend trip. 

One of those places, which I visited last weekend, is Belwin Conservancy in Afton. 

While Belwin isn’t technically a park, it’s a nature conservation area, parts of it are open to the public and offer a lot of fun outdoors. 

A NATURAL HISTORY

Back in the late 1950s, former General Mills CEO Charlie Bell was looking for some open land to preserve. 

Bell found that perfect spot in Afton on the site of the current Belwin Conservancy.

Bell’s vision was always to preserve the land. 

It was in 1971 that Bell began the Belwin Foundation, a private family-owned foundation.

The word Belwin was developed by combining Bell’s last name and his wife Lucy’s maiden name, Winton. 

The same year the Belwin Foundation was formed, 1971, Bell also opened the Education Center, which is primarily used by the St. Paul School District.

In 1999 the Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields opened to the public. 

The fields are used by the St. Croix Soccer Club and the St. Croix Valley Athletic Association.

The Bells maintained the Belwin Foundation for many years until 2007 when the private foundation became Belwin Conservancy, a public nonprofit. 

CONNECTING WITH NATURE

Probably Belwin’s most famous residents are the herd of bison that make their way to the prairies every summer. 

This year’s herd of 35 bison were released last Saturday. 

The bison help with natural prairie restoration at Belwin. 

Following the bison run, I headed over to Belwin’s Stagecoach Prairies Natural Area, Belwin’s only public trail system. 

While Belwin consists of 1,364 acres, only a fraction of that is open to the public. 

You see, the majority of Belwin’s property is used for restoration and research. 

However, the athletic fields, the bison observation deck and the Stagecoach Prairies Natural Area all provide plenty of outdoor fun for the public. 

The Stagecoach Prairies Natural Area consists of roughly 4½ miles of public trails that sit on 280 acres. During my trip out to Belwin last Saturday, I couldn’t believe how peaceful it was. 

Given that Belwin is tucked away from most major highways, the only sounds that could be heard were that of the birds and the rustling of the trees. 

I only walked about a mile of the trails last Saturday because I made the mistake of not grabbing a map on my way in, which I later found out was a poor error since the trails don’t actually make a loop. 

The 4½ miles of trails intersect and cross throughout the area so you will be hard pressed to take the same route twice. 

While Belwin is home to a number of different animals such as birds, deer and other small animals, the only animals that decided to show themselves on my visit were the bugs. 

I cannot stress this enough: If you walk the trails at Belwin make sure to bring bug spray. 

Now as a Minnesotan, you’d think I’d be used to bugs swarming around throughout the summer, but at Belwin, given that it’s all natural prairie, I was quite surprised by how large many of them were. 

Thankfully I only walked away with a couple mosquito bites and the sound of an obnoxious fly buzzing in my ear. 

Despite the bugs though, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed my hike through Belwin, especially since I, like most people, was only familiar with its bison. 

But Belwin is so much more than just bison. 

MORE INFO

Visit belwin.org for more information on Belwin Conservancy. 

 

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

(651) 702-0976
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