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Sue Steinwall

A variety of landscapes and experiences await you at Belwin.

Each area of Belwin showcases a different aspect of the Valley Creek Watershed, and is managed for different uses. Some are always free and open, while others are used for educational purposes or special event programming. Read on to learn more about each of them.


Stagecoach Prairie

Overview
A butterfly perches on a purple flower in the prairie

Best hike for first-time visitors

Featuring gently rolling hills dominated by native tallgrass prairie, this 280-acre area contains 5 miles of family-friendly trails of easy to moderate difficulty. During the winter, Stagecoach Prairie’s trails are not groomed, but are a prime spot for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Dogs are welcome on these trails too, as long as they’re on a leash!


For more public hiking, see also Tallgrass Trails.

Always free and open.

825 Stagecoach Trail S., Afton, MN 55001

Directions & Trail Maps

Stagecoach Prairie’s trails may be accessed via two free parking areas:

Stagecoach Trail parking

825 Stagecoach Trail S., Afton, MN
This is the main parking area, located directly east of Stagecoach Trail one mile south of I-94. This trailhead leads directly into a large expanse of tallgrass prairie. A portable toilet is available here from May to September.

11th Street parking

11th Street South, Afton, MN
This lot is located .3 miles south of the Stagecoach Trail lot. This trailhead takes you down a brief stretch of wooded trails before joining a loop around Sauer’s Prairie.

Hours & Guidelines

Stagecoach Prairie Hours & Guidelines

  • Open daily from dawn to dusk
  • Dogs allowed; help protect the health of your pet and native wildlife by staying on trails and keeping your dog on leash
  • Portable restroom available
  • See General Guidelines for more information

Tallgrass Trails

Overview

Easy prairie hiking for families

Meander through tallgrass prairie and native woodland on 2.5 miles of easy trails that connect Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields to our Bison Observation Platform. They also contain a labyrinth. Dogs are welcome on these trails too, as long as they’re on a leash!


For more public hiking, see also Stagecoach Prairie.

Always free and open.

15551 Division Street, Afton, MN 55001
Directions & Trail Maps

To access the Tallgrass Trails, park at the Bison Observation Platform on Division Street and enter the trails via the trailhead directly across from the parking lot.

15551 Division St., Afton, MN
This free parking area is located east of Stagecoach Trail just south of I-94. A portable, ADA-accessible restroom is available.

To access the labyrinth:
Park at the Bison Observation Platform parking lot and head to the northern edge of the trails adjacent to the ballfields. Two blue reflective markers herald the entrance.

Hours & Guidelines
  • Open daily from dawn to dusk
  • Dogs allowed; help protect the health of your pet and native wildlife by staying on trails and keeping your dog on leash
  • A portable, ADA-accessible restroom is available
  • See General Guidelines for more information
Roaming Stone

Art on the Prairie

“Roaming Stone” is a long-term art installation by Chicago sculptor David Sprecher which was built at Belwin Conservancy as part of 4Ground: Midwest Land Art Biennial. The sculpture, which includes imprints from the hooves of Belwin’s bison herds, is viewable at any time out at Tallgrass Trails. For more information on how “Roaming Stone” was made, read our article.

The installation and opening of “Roaming Stone” is made possible in part by support from the St. Croix Valley Foundation. 4Ground: Midwest Land Art Biennial is a program of Franconia Sculpture Park. For more information, visit 4groundbiennial.org.

15551 Division Street, Afton, MN 55001

Oxbow Trails

Overview

Belwin’s Newest Trails

Oxbow Trails is closed for the season. It will reopen in 2023.

Oxbow Trails features 1.25 miles of chipped trails alongside wooded ridges, shaded areas, and the river of Valley Creek. Belwin is grateful to have worked in partnership with the city of Afton, the Minnesota DNR, Washington County, and others to make this project a reality.


For more public hiking, see also Stagecoach Prairie and Tallgrass Trails.

Closed for the season; reopening 2023

2398 St Croix Trail South, Afton, MN 55001

Directions

Oxbow Trails Parking

2398 St Croix Trail South Afton MN 55001
This free parking area is located just off of St. Croix Trail. This is the main parking area for the site. As the site is in the midst of ongoing restoration, you will see large woodchip pile next to a trailhead which leads downhill into the trail system. All trails of this 1.25 mile system are laid with woodchips.

Hours & Guidelines
  • Oxbow Trails is closed for the season. It will reopen in 2023
  • Open daily from dawn to dusk on weekends starting Saturday October 8th until November 27th or the first major snowfall
  • Dogs not allowed at this site
  • No stream access
  • See General Guidelines for more information
Funding

Creating Belwin’s Oxbow Trails was a collaborative effort. We are grateful to all who helped make this new trail system a reality. Learn more about how Oxbow Trails came to be in this article.

Acquisition funding was provided by the the Washington County Land and Water Legacy Program, the City of Afton, and the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). Restoration funding was provided from the Outdoor Heritage Fund as part of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

What is an Oxbow?

Belwin’s Oxbow Trails are named for oxbow wetlands, where a meander of a stream, river or creek, has become separated from the flow of water. To learn more about what oxbow restoration means to wildlife and people, visit this informative article from The Nature Conservancy.


Bison Prairie & Observation Platform

Overview
Closeup of a bison looking towards the camera.

Make a bison sighting

The 2022 herd has left for the season. Please join us in May 2023 to help welcome the new herd!

Every year, between mid-May and early October, a herd of bison lives on our restored bison prairie. Park at the viewing area and climb the platform to get a glimpse at these beautiful creatures. Bring your binoculars — they roam on 130 acres and are masters at blending into the prairie flora. Better yet, support Belwin with a donation of $500 or above and you can schedule a private ride on the Bison Buggy right into the field.

Free; observation tower closed for the season.

15551 Division Street, Afton, MN 55001
Directions

Bison Observation Platform & Parking

15551 Division St., Afton, MN
This free parking area is located east of Stagecoach Trail just south of I-94. A portable, ADA-accessible restroom is available.

The Bison Observation parking lot is also where you park to access the trailhead at Tallgrass Trails.

Hours & Guidelines

Bison Observation Platform Hours & Guidelines

  • Closed for the season
  • Portable, ADA-accessible restroom available
  • The first low bison platform is fully accessible
  • Please stay in the designated viewing areas to observe the bison. While the fence around the parking area is not electric, the rest of the prairie is surrounded by wildlife-friendly electric fencing. Please do not touch the fence.
  • See Belwin’s General Guidelines for more information

2022 Herd
Bison are released from a trailer onto the Belwin Bison Prairie
Bison Release

2022 Bison Herd

The 2022 NorthStar Bison have left Belwin for the season.

Join us in May 2023 to help us welcome the new herd!

Why Bison?

Bison bring the prairie to life

At Belwin Conservancy, American bison (Bison bison) play an important role in the health of the prairie. Since 2008, a herd of juvenile males from Northstar Bison has taken up summer residence at one of our tallgrass prairie restorations. Their presence has been transformative.

Today, the balance and abundance of wildlife, grasses, and flowers on Belwin’s bison prairie is second to none, thanks to this majestic creature. Belwin Restoration Specialist Lynette Anderson explains: “their grazing patterns promote the growth of different flowers, which brings in different insects, which bring in different birds, and so on and so forth. And that’s the importance of disturbance on a prairie: to keep this vital, dynamic, beautiful habitat going.”

Bison Buggy

Private Buggy Rides

Donors who make a $500 or greater gift to Belwin will be invited to schedule a private Bison Buggy tour with a group of 8-10 people. Guests are encouraged to make the outing even more festive by bringing their own snacks and drinks to enjoy on the ride. These private buggy tours last 1-3 hours and must be arranged in advance. Weekday, evening, and weekend hours are available.


Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields

Overview

Fun & games

Belwin’s Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields see 150,000 visits from athletes and spectators each year. The site is also home to a solar array that generates enough annual electricity to power three homes for a year! The fields are surrounded by 2.5 miles of easy prairie trails that connect to our bison observation tower and also contain a labyrinth.

15601 Hudson Road N., Lakeland, MN 55082

Photo courtesy of St Croix Soccer

Directions

Athletic Fields

15601 Hudson Road N., Lakeland, MN
The entrance to the athletic fields is located just south of I-94 on the frontage road between Stagecoach Trail and St. Croix Trail.

While at the athletic fields, visitors are encouraged to access the adjacent Tallgrass Trails for an easy prairie and woodland hike that connects to the Bison Prairie.

Hours & Guidelines

Athletic Fields: Hours & Guidelines

  • Seasonal hours
  • Dogs are not allowed in the athletic field area
Our partners

Our partners

St. Croix Soccer Club

Founded in 1984, St. Croix Soccer Club (SCSC) is a regional power and destination club for elite players across Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. SCSC manages the Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields at Belwin Conservancy, including the scheduling. All questions regarding the fields should be directed to:

Donna Luttinen, SCSC Administrator
651-300-2114 | admin@stcroixsoccer.org


St. Croix Valley Athletic Association (SCVAA)

The SCVAA, founded in 1967, is a volunteer organization that provides youth athletic programs for children grades K-12. If you are interested in participating in one of their programs, please review the information on the SCVAA website.

Photo courtesy of St Croix Soccer


Education Site

Overview
A group of people gather around a bonfire in the forest at dusk.

Take lessons from the land

The Education Site is reserved for educational programs through Belwin Outdoor Science, our longstanding educational partnership with Saint Paul Public Schools and other area districts. It is also home to Belwin Conservancy’s main office, as well as two educational facilities, and the Joseph J. Casby Observatory. Dogs are not allowed at the Education Center.

Watch our events page for opportunities to visit this area through special events and guided hikes.

Open for special events only.
1553 Stagecoach Trail S., Afton, MN 55001


Joseph J. Casby Observatory

Overview
The Observatory illuminated by red lights at night in the winter.

Go stargazing

Have you ever looked through a telescope, seen the shadow of a crater on the surface of the moon with your own eyes, or watched a nebula thousands of light years away? Guided by members of the Minnesota Astronomical Society, you can at Belwin!

The Joseph J. Casby Observatory offers a southern view of Belwin’s dark skies and permanently houses an eight foot long 10″ TMB Apochromatic Refracting Telescope, one of the finest in the state.

Open for special events only.

1553 Stagecoach Trail S., Afton, MN 55001

Directions

1553 Stagecoach Trail S., Afton, MN
Belwin’s Hilltop Classroom, Wetlands Classroom, and Main Office all share the same address at Belwin’s Education Site. The Joseph J. Casby Observatory is also located here, on the southwest side of the Hilltop Classroom building.

Hours & Guidelines

Casby Observatory Hours & Guidelines

Several times per year, Belwin holds events in partnership with the Minnesota Astronomical Society for moon viewing, galaxy sightings, and planetary observations. Watch our events page or sign up for our email list to learn more.

Our partners

Minnesota Astronomical Society

In 2010, the Minnesota Astronomical Society (MAS) opened the doors—and the dome—to the Joseph J. Casby Observatory at Belwin Conservancy’s Education Center. Since its opening, MAS members have guided thousands of people in observing our universe and deepening their connection with our natural world through astronomy.

Once a month, MAS also hosts Beginner Astronomy Observing Sessions at Belwin’s Metcalf Field. Visit their website to learn more.


Savanna Hills

Overview
High angle shot of Creative Center property featuring a stream among grasses and forest.

Walk back in time

Since 2003, Belwin has been working to clear invasive plants and restore biodiversity to this 246-acre property. Today, the land looks much like it would have in the mid 1800s. Home to a sprawling oak savanna, one of our region’s most threatened native ecosystems, the parcel contains rolling hills, expansive vistas, and wetlands.

In the coming years, we hope to share this area with more visitors through our growing Arts, Culture, and Ecology program, simultaneously showcasing and protecting the health of the restored ecosystems here.

Open for special events only.
795 Indian Trail S., Afton, MN 55001

History

In future years, we hope to share this area with more visitors through our growing Arts, Culture, and Ecology program, simultaneously showcasing and protecting the health of the restored ecosystems here. With potential to be a retreat for artists, the area offers ample inspiration from the surrounding environment – a vision in keeping with the land’s history.

Many Afton residents know this property for its previous owner, Father George Metcalf, an Episcopal priest, and his wife Mary. Metcalf served as General Patton’s personal chaplain during WWII, and with Mary, built a residence with two small guest cottages here in 1959.

For years, the buildings and the land here served as a spiritual retreat, and Metcalf’s radio ministry was broadcast around the world from towers on the sloping hillside. If you’re curious to know more, read Belwin’s Creative Center: A Labor of Love.


General guidelines for visiting Belwin

As you enjoy your time here, please remember that we are sharing this special place with other creatures who call it home. We encourage everyone to tread lightly and subscribe to the principles of Leave No Trace.

Restrooms and usage vary for each site. Refer to each specific area for more information.

Do not leave valuables in your vehicle.

Rules

  • Follow posted signs. 
  • Access and rules may change due to ongoing restoration activities. 
  • Access is only allowed from designated entrances. 
  • Stay on designated trails and respect private property. 
  • Pack out whatever you pack in.
  • No stream access for any activity.
  • Dogs on leash are only permitted at Stagecoach Prairie Natural Area and Tallgrass Trails. Belwin has no off-leash areas for dogs.

Belwin Conservancy celebrates diversity. We value an inclusive and equitable workplace for our staff, volunteers and visitors, and partner with those who share these values. Belwin is proud to be an equal opportunity workplace. We do not and will not tolerate harassment and racial profiling at Belwin Conservancy.

The following are not allowed at Belwin:

Bikes, Camping, Drones, Fires, Fireworks, Horses, Hunting, Fishing, Stream Access, Littering, Motorized Vehicles, Picking Flowers, Removal of Vegetation, Weapons

Questions?

info@belwin.org or (651) 436-5189

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Why Belwin Matters

We spark passion for wild places through conservation, education, and immersive experiences on more than 1,500 acres in Minnesota’s Saint Croix Valley.

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Main Office

1553 Stagecoach Trail South
Afton, MN 55001
651-436-5189
info@belwin.org

Copyright © 2019 - 2022 Belwin Conservancy
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