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Learn and play in one of Minnesota's great outdoors classrooms at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center

Prairie Woods is a nonprofit environmental learning center, committed to providing outstanding environmental education and outdoor experiences to people of all ages.

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From left, climbers Josie Klebe, Rhett Butler and Eli Butler, make their way up the climbing wall at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center during the Earth Day celebration on April 23, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
We are part of The Trust Project.

At the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, visitors can learn and have fun, all while spending time in the beautiful nature of west central Minnesota.

Prairie Woods is a nonprofit environmental learning center, committed to providing outstanding environmental education and outdoor experiences to people of all ages. Deeply rooted in the Kandiyohi County community, PWELC reaches out to provide services for communities across Minnesota and the upper Midwest.

Prairie Woods’ site encompasses 500 acres on the south side of Lake Florida, and includes an education building with five classrooms, a trailhead and a 30-foot indoor climbing wall. The Gary Westby Observatory building sits atop Prairie Woods’ highest hill. Several beautiful spaces are available for meetings, family reunions, holiday gatherings and weddings. Also onsite is the Gary Westby Educational Shooting Sports Range.

PWELC mission: We will promote an individual and shared commitment to the responsible use, management, and preservation of our natural resources.

In short: Learning to live well with self, others and the environment.

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Memberships are available. For additional information, visit the PWELC website at www.prairiewoodselc.org or call the office, 320-354-5894.

Equipment rentals: Fat-tire bikes, kayaks and canoes will be handled on a reservation basis, made at least 24 hours in advance. If you would like to reserve equipment for the weekend, please call by noon on Friday. PWELC does not have regular trailhead hours.

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Reid Dickhoff, 12, from left, Hunter Palmquist, 12, and Truman Jenniges, 12, try out the kayaks during the Earth Day event Saturday April 24, 2021, at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center in rural Spicer.
Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

History of Prairie Woods

More than 12,000 years ago, the most recent glacier receded to reveal dramatic ridges and wetland-rich lowlands on this land. For thousands of years, Native American people found their livelihood among the shifting forests, prairies and wetlands here.

Anders Danielson and his family settled this land when they arrived from Sweden in 1871. Until the late 1980s, most of the land belonging to Prairie Woods was farmed by the Danielson family.

The land was sold to Kandiyohi County by the Danielson family. Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center was founded in 1992.

The farm site is still present, with a barn, granary and farm house. Many bur oak trees on the property are more than 100 years old. A renovated log cabin also sits near the farm site in the exact location where the Danielson family built their first log home, prior to building the frame house.

Challenge course

On Prairie Woods’ challenge course, high ropes and climbing walls, groups learn — and teach each other — about communication, cooperation, creative problem solving and courage.

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More than 25,000 people, ages 4 to 84, have participated in Challenge Course programs at Prairie Woods. Challenge course users include school groups, high school and college athletic teams, church youth groups, local camps, YMCAs, alternative schools, student senates and leadership organizations, 4H, FFA, scouts, families and corporate retreat groups.

PWELC welcomes groups from across Minnesota and beyond.

Prairie Woods’ high quality, multi-faceted facility includes: an indoor climbing wall, 40-foot three-sided outdoor climbing tower, two giant ladders and a Flying Squirrel for group team-building activities on the ground.

The challenge course can accommodate group sizes of up to 200 participants.

Shooting range

The Gary Westby Educational Shooting Sports Range, located on a remote site at Prairie Woods, offers sporting clays and a smallbore rifle range. Shooting leagues should contact Prairie Woods to schedule a time.

Directions and further information

Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center is located at 12718 10th Street NE near Spicer. Call 320-354-5894 or visit www.prairiewoodselc.org for additional information.

From Willmar and the south and west on U.S. Highway 71 and Minnesota Highway 23: Travel north of Willmar on U.S. Highway 71/Minnesota Highway 23. Follow U.S. 71 to the north (toward Sauk Centre) when Highway 23 splits off. Follow U.S. 71 three more miles to Kandiyohi County Road 29. The intersection is past Thein Well at the north side of Ringo Lake. Turn left (west) on County Road 29. Go 1.5 miles. The Prairie Woods driveway will be on your left. You will see a large brown and yellow PWELC sign and a green gate.

Donna Middleton started working at the West Central Tribune in 1975 and has been the news assistant since 1992. She compiles the arts, health, farm and community page calendars, as well as rewrites and works on the special sections.
She can be contacted at dmiddleton@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4341.
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