by Bret Amundson
If only I could be a kid again.
A phrase you may have muttered once or twice as well. While I don’t necessarily want to go back to school, I wouldn’t mind doing 4th and 5th grade over again and spending it at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center in Fergus Falls, then joining a Clay Target League team once I got to high school.
Maybe there’s a way to go back as some sort of undercover writer. I wonder if I could pass for a 10-year-old?
Ah, wishful thinking of course, but the opportunities for kids to become more involved in the outdoors are exploding. While most of us have our fathers and grandfathers to thank for the introduction to hunting and fishing, more and more kids these days don’t have that same guidance.
Fortunately, there are those out there willing to pick up the slack and do it in an organized, educational setting.
Enter the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center (PWLC). The PWLC sits on approximately 350 acres (soon to be 700) just a couple miles north of I-94 in Fergus Falls. There are 4 miles of trails that wind through native prairie, dotted with potholes and teeming with various species of wildlife.
“It is a very unique thing that is unlike anything else I could use as a description,” PWLC Director Matt Conner explained. “It’s run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in a partnership with the city of Fergus Falls and the state of Minnesota. As well as with the local school district ISD 544 and dozens of other schools all over western Minnesota and Fargo.”
There are 6 classrooms within the facility, 4 of which are dedicated to 4th and 5th grade students from Fergus Falls (and elsewhere due to open enrollment) and gives them an experience they won’t get staring at blackboards behind a desk.
“We try to take the concept of wildlife management, what our agency does, and tie it into their curriculum that they have to learn anyway for state and national standards, and when they come out here we’re able to take their experience in the classroom and give them a 700 acre outdoor classroom experience to really understand and learn and apply what they’re learning in math, reading and language arts and tie that through the prairie and (show them) what is so special about living in the prairie pothole region, ” Conner said.
These aren’t just field trips for these kids, they are actually coming here for their classes-this is part of the school system. But, there are kids that come from all over the country and stay in the on site dorm.
“We’ll have groups come for 3 or 4 days-those are long days, ” Conner laughed. “We don’t get to clock out at 4. We get to take evening hikes and we get to go a lot deeper with the experience….we can kinda relax since there is no bell that’s gonna ring, there is no bus that’s going to come for a few days. They get to experience through my eyes why I’m a nature geek.”
The reason for my visit was to meet up with Darrel and Tammie Schrieber who’d be speaking to a group of kids about bowfishing. These kids were just “graduating” from the Stick and String Naturalist Camp, where youth are taught not only how to shoot a bow, but how to build one too. But the best part about it was the final exam: They had to bring someone to camp and teach them how to shoot a bow and do it in front of the rest of the class.
An exercise that I wish would have been practiced more when I was in school. If they can’t teach someone else how to do it, how do the teachers know that the kids learned anything?
The camp is free for kids, much like the Woodie Camp that takes place there with the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.
If you’d like to get your kid involved, you can find more information about the PWLC here. If you’d like to visit, it’s open to the public with a visitor center, gift shop and an educational area with interactive exhibits that will teach you more about the prairie.
Here are pictures of the facility: