The early spring temps were too cold for honey bees, but there was certainly a buzz in the air at the April 2 opening of Shepard Farm’s trails.
An aerial view of Dodge Nature Center's Shepard Farm property in Cottage Grove on April 2, 2022.
All afternoon, a steady stream of people arrived to explore this new nature destination in Cottage Grove. There were both longtime fans and new friends: neighbors within walking distance, Dodge Nature Preschool families, city officials, and curious passersby.
“The excitement of the day was a new community coming to see what’s behind the Shepard Farm curtain,” says executive director Jason Sanders.
A family chats with Dodge naturalist Teresa Root at the interpretive table at Shepard Farm on opening day, April 2, 2022.
Every hour of opening day, naturalists led hikes on fresh (and muddy!) trails. Fifty people flocked to a Spanish-language hike with Luisana Mendez of partner organization Huellas Latinas, Dodge farmer Jorge Espinoza and naturalist Leah Darst. Hikers helped identify wildlife for a BioBlitz, a community science project to give researchers data on species living in this region.
Luisana Mendez of partner organization Huellas Latinas, and Dodge farmer Jorge Espinoza lead a Spanish-language hike at Shepard Farm on opening day, April 2, 2022.
All those boots on the springtime trails represent a major step forward for Shepard Farm. Since acquiring the 140-acre property from the Wilder Foundation in 2013, Dodge Nature Center has reimagined it as an environmental and agricultural learning resource.
Thoughtful and steady development by Dodge honors the historic character of the land while adding classroom space, public restrooms, vehicle access and modern facilities for farm animals.
Dodge naturalist Jeff Boland leads a group on a guided trail hike at Shepard Farm on opening day, April 2, 2022.
As of April, trails are open to the public for daily use. Free guided hikes and family nature programs are offered monthly. Adult classes include beekeeping and backyard chicken raising. This coming school year, field trip students will engage in STEM classes like historical technology.
“Dodge will be doing what it does well,” Jason says. “But also pushing into new and bold directions at Shepard.” One such direction is from farm to table. In a large teaching kitchen, people of all ages will learn to prepare vegetables, fruit, eggs, and honey cultivated in this rich landscape.
Dodge naturalist Pam Welisevich shows students the frame of a beehive at Shepard Farm in spring 2022.
In its care of Shepard Farm, Dodge will foster wildlife habitat, preserve a piece of community history, and reinvigorate this special place for the interests of 21st-century students. “It’s our time to create exceptional experiences in nature for the Cottage Grove community,” says Jason. It’s your support—as a student, visitor, and donor—that makes that possible.
“This was one family’s special place. Now it’s yours.”
This article was originally published in the Nourish Your Need for Nature Newsletter, Fall 2022.