The Nature Explore Classroom at
The Nature Institute
Our property consists of 450 acres of nature preserves along the Mississippi River bluffs. With woods, prairies and wetlands there are many places to wander along our permanent trails and enjoy nature.
Our Discovery Woods began with the Fossil Dig that was created by an Eagle Scout for his final project. To this day it is a favorite play spot among children. Our geology program is a favorite among local teachers, too. Students learn to dig as an archeologist or paleontologist in the fossil dig, complete with bones, artifacts, tools, and setting up a grid system. Cleaned Mississippi sand is regularly refilled as many children always take a few grains with them. Bones from found animal skeletons are added for realism and lots of minerals and rocks too. We have also incorporated our building blocks in this area from tree cookies made from every tree found on our property.
We went on to add an Eagle’s nest, a 5 ft high platform with ladder and complete with sticks set up as in an actual eagle aerie (nest). Children can add sticks, add the bedding for the eaglets (kids) and learn about the American Bald Eagles’ life history.
Over time we added a “burrow” that was nothing more than an old culvert spat out from one of the Mississippi floods. Kids climbed through it, climbed over it and it finally gave out. Another Eagle Scout rehabbed the “burrow” by using two propane pigs with their ends cut off and welded together. On one end of the tube he added a hut or a look out and the other end is open.
Landscaping included reclaimed limestone boulders that once was fashioned as a bridge and culvert. Mounds of soil and grass were added on top for a natural look. This is used to teach about animals that use a den or a cave for hibernation. We have called it the Whistle Den in honor of the winter forecaster, groundhog (whistle pig is its other name).
Since learning about Nature Explore Certified Classrooms in 2013 and taking a workshop this past summer, we have almost finished our outdoor experience area. We have added climbing areas called Bobcat Walk, and Honey’s Hive, an art area called Mississippi Mud Kitchen, a Geology Garden (walk among boulders and learn about the three types of rock), a garden area-Tiger’s Liar, and we are working on a new addition called the Rot Spot or Decomposer Grove. This new area will have a compost bin, rotten logs and a road kill decomposing cage. Another Eagle Scout will be creating our Soundboard for the music area this spring.
Big thank you’s to local Boy Scout troops and their emerging Eagle Scouts, volunteers from local church groups, and Tim Schofield, director of stewardship and Scott Logan, steward for The Nature Institute, who worked tirelessly finding, sculpting and assembling the Discovery Woods outdoor classroom.
2213 S. Levis Lane