Wild Kids? Kids in the Wild!



The exciting entrance to Kids in the Wild

Every group of students we have at River Bend walks by Kids in the Wild, looks down at the valley full of obstacles and awesome shelters and says: “Teacher, can we go down there and explore?”


A bench overlooking Kids in the Wild

This natural play-scape at River Bend Nature Center is the perfect place for kids of all ages (even the ones who are commonly referred to as adults) to safely explore, play, and have fun in nature. It is located between Owl and Oak trails, easily accessible from the interpretive center.  The entrance is marked by a wooden arch with decorative vines. The arch leads to stairs that help you get down the steep hill. If you have a stroller or wagon, the south Owl hill leads right to the backside of the play area, bypassing the stone steps.  There is a bench and a picnic table in the play area as well for those who would rather sit back, relax, and supervise the fun.

What is the best options for clothing?

Tucked away from the sun, it’s a nice place to hang out and stay cool on a hot summer day while still enjoying nature.  Be sure to wear the right clothing though, so that way you can ward off the mosquitoes; long sleeves and long pants are ideal. Bring some bug spray as well to help. The Off! mosquito fan works great to add some additional defense.  Make sure you also wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, because it can get muddy in there, but that is half of the fun! Closed-toe shoes are the best option for shoes as they are the safest in the wild. If you get too muddy or dirty, feel free to come up to the interpretive center and use the hose on the side of the building to rinse that mud off!


So how do we use Kids in the Wild? What are the best activities to do?

1. Shelter Building

Pretend you are lost in the middle of the woods and you have 10 minutes until the storm hits. What is the first thing you should do? Build a shelter to keep you dry. At River Bend, our phrase to remember what materials to collect is “Dead and Down.” Remember that its a public space, so be respectful of other shelters in hopes that others will be respectful of yours. Also, don’t forget to leave no trace and clean up after yourself.

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Shelter building!

2. Games

Flash flood: When someone yells flash flood, participants have 10 seconds to find a place where they can get their feet off of the ground (to stay safe from the flood). Students love this game because they get to climb trees, rocks, logs, etc.

Hide and Seek: A basic game, one person tries to find everyone else who is hiding. Hide behind trees, in shelters, or somewhere else that will be tricky to spot you

Camouflage: Similar to hide and seek, one person (the predator) closes their eyes and lets everyone else (the prey) hide. After 10 seconds the predator opens their eyes but stays in place. Anyone they can see is eaten, so they are out. After they call out who they can see, the predator yells out “Camouflage” and the first person to tag the predator wins.  The predator should always stay in the same place.  The winner becomes the new predator.

3. Stream Play

Build a dam or try to divert the stream. There is a natural spring at the top of the hill that flows down the valley; it is what has been creating the valley for the last couple million years. There are plenty of “dead and down” sticks or other treasures that are great for creating a dam. Explore what happens down stream when you try to create a dam. This is a great example and scale model of what happens on larger rivers when humans build a dam; playing and hands-on-learning combined. Make sure that when you are done, you take apart your dam and leave no trace.


Lots of visitors have tried to divert the stream and build dams.

4. Enjoying nature

Maybe you would rather sit by the side and just enjoy the sounds of nature. Many animals visit kids in the wild. The quieter you sit, the better chances you have of seeing some wild life. Birds and squirrels are the most frequent visitors to the area, and the most fun to watch. Take some time to meditate, relax, and take in the natural beauty surrounding you.

Baby Animals

Written by Stephanie Rathsack, Environmental Educator


A sure sign of spring: a Robin’s egg! Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

All around River Bend, signs of spring have been popping up—trees are leafing out, spring flowers are in full bloom, frogs are calling, and the next generation of many species are being born. With these new little additions to the woods, fields, and ponds however come another sign of spring: daily phone calls of concerned citizens wondering what to do about the baby -insert species here- they found injured or abandoned. This blog post will focus on the most common animal babies around Faribault, and what you should do if you happen to find one of them while out enjoying the beautiful weather.

  1. Turtles
    Common scenarios:
    Finding a mother turtle laying eggs in a less-than-ideal location
    Solution: Do not disturb the mother turtle while she is laying eggs, let her complete the entire process, including burying the eggs herself. This is a natural process that should not be interrupted. If the eggs are laid in a location that could be dangerous for the hatchlings, the best solution is to fence off the nest site with orange flagging and signs so that it can be avoided and the eggs will not be disturbed. If the nest is in a location that is scheduled to be dug out (such as a construction site) the nest may be carefully dug out by hand and relocated as close as possible. Keep note of how deep the nest is, how much sun it receives, and what type of soil it is, as all of these factors may affect the ability of the eggs to properly incubate and hatch.
    B. A baby turtle (hatchling) is crossing the road!
    Solution: Stop your vehicle if safe to do so, and alert others of the crossing turtle. No matter the species, all baby turtles will be walking instinctively towards water, so if you do attempt to help the turtle along, be sure to carry it to the side of the road it is trying to get to. If you place the turtle on the other side, it will merely attempt to cross the road again. Do not lift turtles by their legs or tails, but carefully by the back of the shell. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling.
  2. Deer
    Common scenarios:
    Finding a baby deer (fawn) lying on the ground without its mother
    Solution: Leave it alone. Do not approach the fawn or attempt to move it. Mother deer leave their young alone in order to protect them from predators. A fawn’s coloring allows it to blend in, and they will remain perfectly still no matter how close you get in order to keep blending in. They also lack any scent, which keeps predators from smelling out their location. If you approach, you will create a trail that predators can follow. Any fawn that you see lying down on the ground alone is doing exactly what it needs to do to survive.
  3. Rabbits

Common scenarios:
A. Nest of rabbit babies (kits) found in yards and gardens with no mother in sight
Solution: Leave them alone. Almost every baby rabbit found alone, is not abandoned at all, but is simply waiting for its mother to return. Female rabbits only nurse their young for a few minutes every day, usually under cover of darkness. For the majority of the day, they will stay far away from the nest in order to reduce the chance of predators finding it.

  1. Rescued from a pet dog or cat
    Solution: There are times when pets can cause havoc for wildlife. The best solution for this scenario is prevention, namely by keeping all cats indoors and by always having your dog on leash when outside. If you do find an injured rabbit, the best thing to do is bring it to a wildlife rehab center.
    C. A baby bunny is hopping around alone
    Solution: Leave it alone, do not attempt to catch it. Any young rabbit that is hopping around is old enough to fend for itself and is already weaned from its mother.
  2. Squirrels
    Common scenarios:
    A tree has fallen over, and there was a nest of squirrels inside
    Solution: Only move the nest if absolutely necessary to do so. Watch for signs of the mother returning to nurse her young. If the mother returns, she will move the babies to a new location. If the mother does not return, be sure the site is left alone, and that there’s nothing preventing her from returning. If the female still doesn’t return, collect the young and transport in a small dark container to a wildlife rehab center.
    B. Finding a baby squirrel on the ground, alone
    Solution: Check for signs of a nest nearby. If possible, return the squirrel to its nest and leave the area to avoid scaring the adults away. If the baby squirrel is in a dangerous location, carefully move it out of danger, but not so far that the mother won’t be able to find it.
  3. Songbirds/waterfowl
    Common scenarios:
    Fallen nest
    Solution: Try to replace the nest back where it came from. If unable to reconstruct the nest, use strawberry containers, or another small basket to create a new one and secure it firmly before placing eggs/nestlings back inside. Immediately leave the location, but watch for returning parents.
    B. “Abandoned” baby bird
    Solution: If you find a baby bird on the ground, it may have fallen from its nest. Take a look around so see if you can locate the nest, and place the baby back inside. If you cannot locate the nest, watch from a distance, as the mother may still return, but move the chick if it is in a dangerous location. Keep in mind that birds have a poor sense of smell, and that the chick will not be instantly abandoned if you touch it. If there’s no sign of an adult returning for the chick, bring it in to a wildlife rehab center.


General information:

Most baby animals that are found by humans have not been abandoned by their parents. The best thing to do in almost every situation is to leave the animal where you find it. Do not attempt to move or help them unless necessary to do so.  Do not attempt to raise the animal yourself either, as this can be dangerous for you, and the animal as well. Animals that are raised outside their natural habitat require immense work and most often suffer from improper care.

River Bend Nature Center is not equipped to take in animals of any kind, and will be unable to accept any that are brought in. Please refer to the above guidelines if you find a baby animal in the wild. If the animal is injured or must be moved, they can be taken to the wildlife rehab center:


9am-8pm M-F
9am-6pm Sat/Sun


Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota
2530 Dale St. N. Roseville



Taxidermy: Tools & Techniques

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Last Saturday, about a dozen people filed into River Bend Nature Center to learn an ancient art—taxidermy.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

For centuries, people have developed ways in which to preserve animals: however, whether you’re doing taxidermy  to learn a new skill, to show off a trophy, or record scientific data, specific steps must be taken in order for the specimen to remain in life-like condition. This blog post is dedicated to outlining several common techniques used both in the past and the present to preserve animals.

Taxidermy may be performed on all vertebrate species, including all mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. And though the steps taken to preserve these different species varies slightly, the tools required are all fairly similar, and depending on your skill level and the purpose of the mount, can be quite easy to procure. Any project will require at the very least, the following items:

  • Protective Equipment (Gloves, safety glasses, etc), if done correctly taxidermy is fairly clean, but steps should still be taken to keep yourself safe
  • Sharp scissors or scalpel
  • Medical probe
  • Pins
  • Cardboard or foam
  • Buckets/plastic containers
  • A drying agent such as borax or cornmeal OR a tanning agent
  • Needle & thread

These are the basic supplies that will be required for almost any type of mount you are attempting, but as different animals and different techniques will vary, so will the materials required. As you gain experience, you may also find that you prefer specific brands, or specific tools over others.

Taxidermy is a mix of science and art that has been developed since the mid-1700s, and possibly even earlier. And though the number of methods and purposes are limited only by imagination, this blog post will cover those that are considered “tried and true” by taxidermy specialists, and are by far the most common.

  1. Mounted skin on manikin

This is the most common method of preserving a trophy animal and is what you’d expect for such projects as mounting deer heads, or creating life-size mounts of bears, cougars, and other large animals. In short, the animal must be skinned (the skin preserved by either drying or tanning) and then placed over a sculpted manikin of the specific species. These manikins are painstakingly created by wildlife experts in order to be as anatomically accurate as possible, but once created, they can then be mass produced. In the early years of taxidermy this would not have been possible, and even today there are some taxidermists who choose to sculpt their own models (in order to use the specific animal as a comparison) or create a model using the Victorian-era method of winding the body shape out of string as depicted in this image of William Hornaday.


William Hornaday. the father of modern taxidermy, creating a lion mannequin by winding string around a wood base.

Once the skin is placed over the manikin, finishing touches must be made, such as repairing shrunken sections, restoring natural colors, placing eyes and teeth, etc.

But like any taxidermy method, the process will vary by specimen, the taxidermist’s skill, and materials available and a taxidermist may even use multiple methods on the same specimen to achieve the best results.

2. Preserving Skulls and Bones

Depending on the purpose for preserving the animal, the most interesting piece might actually be inside—ie, bones, skulls, and teeth. The methods for preserving these parts are in some ways much easier than attempting to preserve other softer parts (bone is far more forgiving than delicate skin, hair, or feathers), but care must still be taken to avoid damaging them. The first step in this method, is to skin the animal (the technique will vary depending on whether you would also like to preserve the skin in addition to the bones), and then to de-flesh it. There are many ways in which to clean the bones of flesh, including: burying in the soil, macerating in water, treatment with chemicals, exposing to flesh-eating insects/bacteria, boiling, or by hand. No one of these techniques will work one hundred percent of the time for every specimen, and often, best results come from using a combination of several. But regardless of the methods used, once the skull/bones have been cleaned of all flesh, they will need to be dried thoroughly before being whitened by letting it soak in hydrogen peroxide (never bleach!) and sprayed with a clear acrylic to protect the surface from dirt and oils.

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The steps of cleaning a skull as performed on a red fox skull. In this case, de-fleshing was performed with a combination of by-hand removal, and simmering in hot water.
Photo and taxidermy credit: Stephanie Rathsack

3. Tanning Pelts

One of the earliest methods of preserving an animal: In 19th century England, there was an increased demand for leather, which meant tanning (turning an animal’s skin into preserved leather) became commonplace. The methods for doing so have changed throughout the years (you won’t find many taxidermists relying on pig or horse brains to turn skins into leather anymore), but the practice is still variable, and depending on your experience and abilities, there are several different methods:

  • Tree Bark
  • Brain (both brain and bark are more natural, but very difficult),
  • Alcohol/turpentine
  • Salt/alum
  • Purchasing a ready-made tanning solution

By far, the easiest and most reliable method is purchasing a tanning solution, but taxidermists have had great success with all of the above methods and more. Basically, the tanning solution is meant to preserve the hide and prevent it from decomposing.

To prepare a hide for tanning, the animal must be skinned, either as a flat cape (think bear skin rug) or a tube (think hand-puppet), and all flesh/fat must be removed. The use of a sharp knife or de-flesher is a must, and great care must be taken to avoid puncturing the skin itself. It is also essential that the hide is de-fleshed quickly before bacteria have a chance to grow, especially if you intend to keep the fur on, rather than making leather.

Once all the flesh is removed, the hide has to be completely dried out. The easiest way to do this is to salt it by placing a generous layer of non-iodized salt over the flesh side of the hide, replacing frequently until all moisture has been drawn out. At this point, you would apply a lime solution to remove the hair if your goal is to make leather, but this step may be skipped otherwise. Afterwards, the hide must be ‘’thinned’, which means more scraping with the knife or de-flesher to make an even and easier to manage skin, removing all pieces that were missed the first time it was fleshed. Once the hide is thinned, it must be soaked in an acidic solution (pH of 2 or lower), then neutralized completely before the tan is applied. Depending on the method of tanning to be used, the process will vary, but generally the hide must be either soaked in the solution, or it must be brushed on in an even coating for several days. Once the hide is tanned, it is considered a stable hide and can be left indefinitely. But to finish the process, the hide must be ‘’broken’’, in which the fibers in the leather are pulled apart, leaving it soft and flexible. There are machines available for this process, but firmly stretching the hide or scraping it works well for small hides, and takes relatively little time. Once finished, the leather will have a lighter white appearance, and will remain pliable.

4. Study Skins


This final method is almost entirely used by museums and collectors interested in preserving as much scientific data on the specimen as possible, while also saving space. Generally used for birds and small mammals, the specimens are worked into a round tube shape in order to more easily fit side by side in drawers, although they can be worked into other shapes as well.

In order to perform this technique, the animal must first be skinned, by creating a small vertical ventral incision and then carefully teasing the hide away. If done correctly, the casing containing the internal organs will remain in one piece and thus keep the entire process relatively clean. If the visceral mass is punctured, or bleeding occurs, you may use a drying agent such as borax to keep your work station clean as well as protect the skin from staining. Once the hide has been removed, it can either be pinned flat as a ‘’rug’’, or stuffed with medical cotton and sewed back together before being pinned into the desired shape. After the animal has been pinned, it must be left to dry for several weeks, up to several months depending on the size, though once dried it will remain fixed in this position.

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A participant in Saturday’s class works patiently to pose her mouse in just the right shape.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

Over centuries of improvement and experimentation, taxidermy is an art and a science that has truly come into its own. Where once even the most skilled taxidermist struggled to preserve small animals, today both experts and amateurs alike can create beautiful and long-lasting specimens. It is a rewarding process, whether you’re looking to save a trophy, or simply to acquire a new skill. If you do plan to try taxidermy on your own, it is important to keep in mind that many species are protected under law, and possession of any parts of those species is illegal, regardless of how they were collected.

Patience pays off in taxidermy, as participants in Saturday’s class found out after their mice were completed in about three hours. 
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

Interested in learning more or trying it out for yourself? River Bend Nature Center will potentially be offering more courses on taxidermy! Stay-tuned for announcements on our facebook page, website, and newsletter.

The Heroes of River Bend Nature Center Part 1: Early Heroes


“Share a Dream”

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Orwin Rustad sharing his knowledge with students on a hike


It now has been almost a year since I started working at River Bend Nature Center and over the last year I have learned a lot of the facts about the history of River Bend Nature Center. Information like when it was founded, when its first building was built, and the names of the people who helped make this Nature Center a reality. It wasn’t until my last blogpost about quiet places at River Bend Nature Center seeing just how many plaques by trees and benches we have honoring people, which made me realize just how many people helped create this place we all love so very much. I began to wonder more about the people who worked to make this place a reality. What were they like? What dreams did they first have for this place when it was still old farm land? What things had we forgotten with time that the people who had come before us had done to make River Bend Nature Center?

Before white settlers the land was natural prairies and forests, and the Wahpekutey band of the Dakota lived here in Faribault with some possibly have been living where Rustad Road is today. Then after Alexander Faribault created a town here and the Dakota were moved to a reservation as a result of the Treaty of Mendota in 1851 the land was divided up to farmers and one farmer sold his land to the state and the Faribault Regional Center was created. The residents of the state hospital farmed this land from the late 1800’s to the late 1960’s this farm land provided food for all their residents as well as some of the other state institutions in the surrounding area. Through the 1970s until it was founded in 1978-79 and in 1980 when the opening and dedication of River Bend Nature Center and the Trailside Center building happened is when the story and the dream of the land becoming an Environmental Learning or Nature Center really began and is still being written.

If you are interested in learning more about all the steps that happened between 1970 and 1980 to make River Bend Nature Center than I highly recommend you check out chapter thirty of Orwin Rustad’s book “A Journal of Natural Events in Southeastern Minnesota” the chapter is titled River Bend Nature Center Early History . This chapter is written by Kay Janky who was one of the early people along with Orwin Rustad and so many others who worked to make River Bend Nature Center possible. From this chapter I actually found the title of one of their earliest publications a brochure called “Share a Dream” that was created to help build support for creating a nature center in Faribault. I decided to use it for the title of this blog in part because after reading a lot of the bios and history of these early River Bend leaders you could see how they all shared a dream for this place and worked together to make it possible. Share a Dream seemed appropriate for both the past and now the present because as River Bend Nature moves to celebrate our 40th Anniversary year from 2018 to 2019 we have done surveys with the community there have been a lot of discussions with the staff and the Board of Directors about what River Bend is and what we hope it will continue to be and become in the future.

Our Executive Director, Breanna Wheeler, has talked about gathering more of the history of River Bend and the stories of all the people who helped make River Bend whether they were an early founder, staff, board member, volunteer, or people a part of the River Bend community who have a story to share. So I decided with this week being Earth Week and to celebrate Earth Day today that it is an appropriate time to start a series of posts remembering the people who have made this place River Bend Nature Center. My intention is that this will be an on-going series of blog posts as we find more history and more people who have been a part of the River Bend story because we don’t know every single person who has been a part of River Bend Nature Center right now. Kay Janky had a great quote from the book about this “To begin to list all those who gave significantly of their time and support would most assuredly mean I would miss an important person.” So we ask that you please share the stories you know about the people who helped make River Bend Nature Center with us so that we can share the history accurately on our next blog posts and throughout our 40th Anniversary celebration. We also would really appreciate contact information to be able to get a hold of them in the future. So let us begin this series by learning about some of the early heroes of River Bend Nature Center.


Orwin Rustad, founder, ribbon cutting ceremony in 1980

Orwin Rustad – “The Father of River Bend Nature Center”

Orwin Rustad had been a native of Faribault and had grown up outdoors. Even before graduating from high school he was fascinated by birds and got his master bird banding permit while still in high school and did bird banding for 40 years recording what birds migrated through Faribault. He then went on to get a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in biology from St. Olaf College in 1942 and then a Master’s degree in biology and science education from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis and did further studies at Cornell University and Oslo University in Norway. He then went on to teach biology and filed biology collectively for 42 years between Breck High School, St. Olaf College, and Shattuck St. Mary’s and was also Shattuck’s Naturalist after his retirement in 1988. In fact he first tried to get a nature center on Shattuck’s campus before turning to the land he loved to hike on. He was one of earliest founders of River Bend and he spent hours hiking on the land when it was still a part of the Faribault Regional Center. Before there were any committees for the Faribault Bicentennial and Nature Center he led the Faribault Area Committee for Environmental Quality (FACE-Q) on nature hikes. FACE-Q then became the Faribault Naturalists Club and then the core of this group became the group of people who ran and were a part of the committees and campaigns to start River Bend Nature Center and then the Board after it was started. Although Orwin was not well known for being active in committees as Kay Janky states he helped share the dream as the first dreamer and visionary for what River Bend could be. “However, his dream, his influence, his knowledge, his perseverance, his foresight, his unswerving devotion to the dream of a nature center kept us going.” This quote was from Kay Janky in the chapter of Orwin Rustad’s book about River Bend Nature Center. It is because of this and how even after retiring he continued to lead students and adults alike on nature hikes that he became known as “The Father of River Bend Nature Center” and is why the road leading into River Bend Nature Center was named Rustad Road. Orwin  was fascinated by birds and plants and the recording of natural events which led to his book “A Journal of Natural Events in Southeastern Minnesota” and thousands of dollars from the proceeds from this book went into River Bend’s Educational Endowment fund. Orwin Rustad received over the years many different rewards and recognition in honor of all the work he did including the Cum Laude Society at Shattuck-St.Mary’s, the Service to Mankind Award from the Faribault Sertoma Club, the Bicentennial Hall of Fame Award from the City of Faribault, WCCO Good Neighbor Award, and the Meritorious Service Award from the Association of Interpretive Naturalists to name a few. He passed away July 6th, 2008 but his legacy lives on in much of what River Bend is and still does today and all the people it has affected and will affect.


Charlie Turnbull from a recent editorial about his book “The Lean-To Boys of Bigfork, Minnesota” http://www.southernminn.com/st_peter_herald/news/article_30671e35-863b-58d3-9885-c9f6c73d952c.html

Charlie Turnbull – The Organizer

Charlie Turnbull was the former Executive Director of the Faribault Regional Center and a co-founder of River Bend Nature Center.  He helped acquire the land from the State where the Faribault Regional Center used to be to create River Bend Nature Center on it. As Kay Janky said he “used his political savvy and organizational ability to help spearhead the dream.” In addition to Orwin Rustad, Turnbull was also credited by Kay Janky as being one of the two people who really made River Bend Nature Center possible. Charlie was a local citizen leader in Faribault with a lot of influence that he used to help get River Bend created.  Charlie helped lobby the Minnesota Legislature for River Bend Nature Center.  He also was the first do serve as 1st Vice-President for River Bend Nature Center from 1979 to 1980 and then was elected President and served from 1981 to 1983. During his time as President Charlie along with Ron Osterbauer one of the early Executive Directors of River Bend started the Endowment Funds which to this day insures the continuation of River Bend Nature Center. Additionally it was partly due to increasing these funds that he helped grow the employed staff at River Bend Nature Center from a single Executive Director to also including a secretary and a naturalist. In addition to helping found River Bend he wrote the book “The Lean-To Boys of Bigfork, Minnesota” about deer hunting in Northern Minnesota. Charlie still is alive today and lives with his wife in St. Peter, Minnesota.

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Kay Janky

Janice Kay Janky – “The Heart of River Bend”

Janice Kay Janky who went by Kay Janky was according to fellow River Bend co-founder and Kay’s friend Pat Rice: “Kay was really the heart of River Bend. Orwin Rustad had the original vision for River Bend and he sought out other people to carry his vision forward.” Orwin Rustad had the vision but he sought out people to make this dream a reality and just like Turnbull, Janky was one of these visionaries whose constant work made River Bend a reality. She put in many hours lobbying the Minnesota Legislature along with Charlie Turnbull and Greg Carlson, and reaching out to the community working over the years on different committees and positions to start River Bend. She was known for doing all the little things in between to the monthly meetings that added up and made River Bend possible. Then when River Bend Nature Center was created she served as 2nd Vice-President for the first Officer Board alongside Greg Carlson and Charlie Turnbull.  She spent years into the 1980s first creating the volunteer naturalist program that is still around today and then creating some of the earliest curriculum at River Bend Nature Center for teaching the children of Faribault. She also was a part of the first cohort of volunteer naturalists at River Bend Nature Center. Her friend Pat Rice has commented on how Janky was such a natural when it came to working with children. “She had a good eye to learning for children, could get down to their level and that made her a natural for developing the curriculum.” said Pat Rice in letter about Kay Janky. This letter was written when River Bend was looking for more information about Kay Janky to dedicate a memorial for her. The memorial that was dedicated to honor Janky and all the work she had done at River Bend Nature Center is the Big Woods Amphitheater which became the Kay Janky Amphitheater.

Gregory Carlson – the Adventurer

He was originally from Illinois where he also got his Law Degree before moving up to Minneapolis and then Faribault to work for the Rice County Attorney’s Office and then soon after opened up his own practice. He originally developed a love for rivers on the Mississippi in his Illinois and then continued this love in the Faribault area with all its rivers which was part of what drew him to the area. Greg was a passionate environmentalist. He volunteered on many projects to better the environment and community and it was because of all the work he did over the years for the years that earned him the Nature Conservancy of Minnesota Conservation award. He was involved with creating River Bend Nature Center from the beginning by helping build community support and lobbying the Minnesota legislature. Greg was instrumental in the land acquisition from the State of Minnesota for the River Bend Nature Center working with Charlie Turnbull to make this happen.  He served on the different committees Pre-River Bend and the River Bend Board throughout its inception until he died on February 13th 2017. Greg was the first President of River Bend Nature Center and served as president many times after that as well as other roles over the years on the Board. In his first letter as president he addressed the future members explaining what the new board hoped River Bend would become what they were working on and invited them at the end of his letter to “Come Grow With Us. Share Our Dream.” During his tenure as president he used his legal background to help create the bylaws, contracts, and handle other legal problems. He loved exploring the property at River Bend Nature Center and alongside Orwin Rustad and Charlie Turnbull helped cut and make some of the trails that we still use today. He was an adventurer going on many trips with his wife, Suzanne Gagnon Vininski, family, and friends. “Together they shared a common bond of enjoying life and nature to its fullest while raising their combined family. They loved to adventure travel to many unique destinations to experience nature” it was written in the pamphlets they had at memorial at River Bend Nature Center remembering and celebrating Greg Carlson.


Louise Wright, an active board member and volunteer naturalist

Louise Wright – Founder of the Prairie

Louise Coffey Wright was a member of the Board since its inception, serving as Chairperson for the Dedication and Grand Opening Committee in 1980, second vice-president from 1981 to 1983, secretary from 1984 to 1986, and president from 1986 to 1988. She also was an active volunteer naturalist, sharing her knowledge of nature with thousands of school children putting in hundreds of volunteer hours. She was a mentor and friend as well to many of the volunteer naturalists and teachers who came to River Bend Nature Center. Her friend Bev Finholt described the passion Louise had for educating children, how much knowledge she possessed and shared easily, and how she was never too busy for answering questions. “Louise had a special way of instilling in children, and adults, the desire to learn about our natural environment.” It was while she was president that the prairie was started she helped plant seeds, transplanting native wildflowers, collecting and sorting seeds, assisted with prairie burns, and provided educational materials about prairies for school children. As her friend Ron Osterbauer put it “Louise was at home with the prairie.” She was instrumental in creating the prairie at River Bend Nature Center and because of this in 1990 that the prairie she helped create and care for was dedicated in her honor. To this day a plaque and a bench honor her on the prairie loop trail. Memorial gifts that were received when she past went to her two passions at River Bend the “prairie and educating children about nature.”

Louise Wright prairie plaque wording (2)

These are only a few of the people off a list of countless people I have to do more research into to recognize the people who help built River Bend and to hopefully record the history accurately. So once again I would like to invite you to share any information you have about the people included above or anyone else you know who should be recognized for the work they did helping make River Bend Nature Center. I gathered my information from a sources listed below which includes RBNC publications and newsletters, articles, memorials, and obituaries. Please let us know if anything should be corrected because we were not using accurate information. So I hope you join us in the coming 2 years as we get ready to and celebrate River Bend Nature Center’s 40th Anniversary and all the people who made River Bend Nature Center possible we could not do it without all your help and support!


A Journal of Natural Events in Southeastern Minnesota – By Orwin Rustad

Memorial Pamphlet for Greg Carlson Memorial at River Bend Nature Center

Kay Janky Memorial Service & Amphitheater Dedication Press Release
















Taking Prescribed Fires off the “back burner” at River Bend Nature Center

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Or at least, that’s the idea.

2017 shapes up to be a successful year for prescribed burns at River Bend Nature Center. This grassland/forest mix behind the interpretive center was one of the first locations burned this last Saturday.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

In a world where fire is often seen as a danger to life and property, it’s easy to forget that fire is actually a natural part of a healthy ecosystem, and that in some cases, it is necessary for the survival of native plants and animals. This leads many to ask how this could be possible, when the landscape after a fire looks as far from lively as you can get: shriveled and blackened grass, charred stumps, and an ashy sky. It doesn’t exactly look appealing. It takes a closer examination to discover the real benefit of allowing fire to move through our prairies and forests.

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Immediately following a fire, the ground is left dry and charred. But it won’t stay like this for long.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

Underneath the burned ground, an incredible change is taking place—nutrients that were once trapped inside plants on the surface are now recycled back into the soil. In this way, nutrients are not locked away, but become available for new plants to utilize. This becomes especially true in prairie ecosystems, where grasses are prevalent, dying back every winter and holding nutrients in their dead stalks above the soil line. Perhaps even more amazing after a fire, some seeds buried in the ground begin to stir and show signs of life after what could have been years of dormancy.

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Large, healthy trees remain undamaged when a prescribed burn moves past. The removal of competition around it will even help it to thrive.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

In some cases, seeds are even coated with flammable oils to encourage hotter fires. These fire-dependent species require high heat for germination to be triggered, when otherwise it would not occur at all. Plants developed such traits in order to exploit the lack of competition following a fire. With other species removed, new plants that germinate quickly afterwards do not have to fight for sunlight or water with any nearby neighbors. A famous example of this is the Lodgepole pine, whose cones are sealed with a special resin that melts away in the high heat of fire and releases the seeds. There are many ways that plants have evolved to make use of fire—species may rely on fire, smoke, or a combination of both in order to prosper.

1Source: http://www.austintexas.gov/rxfire

This knowledge flies in the face of years of misunderstanding—that ecosystems are always moving towards a state of equilibrium, where nature and all of its components end in harmony. The reality is far different—nature not only utilizes, but requires frequent “disturbances”, whether this be in the form of fire, flood, or landslide. And so rather than thinking of a forest or prairie as a linear progression towards an endpoint, it is better to think of them as a cycle, where plants grow, die, are recycled back into the system, and begin again. This mindset is known as ecological succession—old growth forests will inevitably become disturbed sites where new, younger individuals will emerge and age. In the end this results in a healthier ecosystem, which is easy to see when comparing pre-settlement forests to modern forests. Before human intervention, forests often had fewer but larger and healthier trees. Now, forests have far more trees, but they are overcrowded, smaller, and generally less healthy.



Source: https://www.cs.hmc.edu/~sweil/bio52/3/fireeco.html


Ironically, it is the modern, “protected” forests that pose the greatest threat, both to humans and wildlife. When fire is prevented, forests mature beyond the point of being prosperous—food/water amounts and space lessen, and wildlife suffers as a result. Additionally, dead plant matter builds up, which creates more fuel. Eventually, the amount of fuel present in the forest may allow for a larger, hotter, and more dangerous fire to occur.

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Prescribed burns prevent fuel from building up in a forest or prairie ecosystem–the result is more frequent but smaller fires that are less likely to get out of control.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

And so it all comes down to word choice. Many of us may remember the famous Smoky the Bear phrase “only YOU can prevent forest fires”. This was a great and catchy slogan for a world where fire could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, both to buildings and natural areas. But as we began to learn more about this land we were trying to “protect” by putting out every fire we could find, scientists began to realize that our “help” was actually causing harm. And so rather than advertising a negative image on “forest fires”, Smoky now reminds us to stop “wild fires” instead—that is, fires that are unintentional or out of control in a region where lives and property could be lost. This change of heart helped reduce the misconception that all fire is bad—and that any forest or prairie fire is a villain in an ecological sense.

Nutrients are recycled back into the soil when dead vegetation is allowed to burn. Even greener patches along the river are able to be burned, as Emily Greger, Resource Manager, helps it along with a torch.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

But what does this have to do with River Bend? There is one more benefit from fire that River Bend will be utilizing very soon, and that is to use fire as a tool to remove invasive species. While hours of work every year go into removing invasive species from the property, pulling, cutting, and treating, it is not the most effective way to prevent the spread of non-natives. Fire works much faster and far more thoroughly than any “by hand” methods of removal, making it the most effective tool at our disposal. And while historically, prescribed fires have been used sporadically and on small sections of land, we plan to increase the area covered, and also begin burning on a regular rotation. One burn is not enough to bring a habitat back to “pristine” condition—it takes several burns in addition to other treatments, and the entire process might go on for years. However, in the end, after a lot of planning and work, the goal is that eventually we will be left with forests and prairies that resemble pre-settlement—healthy ecosystems filled with a large variety of native plants and animals.


Visitors can expect to see signs of burning through the end of April, and sites on the list of potential burns are the rain garden, the large prairie by the Interpretive Center, ditches along Rustad Road, the gravel pit, and the prairie on Teepee Tonka.

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Tall grasses burn readily–moving very quickly across a prairie landscape. A “back burn” will prevent fire from spreading to undesired locations.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

Dates and times of burns are all weather dependent, and all burning will cease before May in order to protect ground nesting birds. Helping us with this process is the Faribault Fire Department, who has been donating their time and equipment for decades.

4357Fire creeps up to the banks of the Straight River which acts as a perfect fire break.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

And while we cannot ask for volunteers from the public to help with burns, there are several things you can do to help make this process as simple and safe as possible:

Take note of any and all signs posted notifying the public about potential burns. When burning, there will be a large sign posted by the park entrance asking that people stay away from the areas that are being burned, both for their safety as well as the safety of the staff—distractions can lead to dangerous situations. Another way that you can help is by attending several events that River Bend has coming up—the first is an OWLS (Older Wiser Livelier Seniors) presentation given by River Bend’s Resource Manager Emily Greger. The presentation will focus on invasive species, going beyond buckthorn and touching on lesser known species and methods for controlling them. Additionally, River Bend hosts Restoration work days where members of the public can come out and assist with a variety of restoration projects, including removal of invasive species. For more information on these programs and other opportunities please see our website: http://www.rbnc.org/

OWLS – https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/event.jsp?event=1631&

Restoration Work Day – https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/event.jsp?event=1641

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Fire will drastically change the appearance of a landscape, but in just a few weeks, this same location picture in both photos will be green with new and healthier growth.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

Springing into warm weather!

Hello again, River Bend friends! As you have probably noticed, Spring has sprung and we are really enjoying all the changes that are happening here. Many snakes and frogs are waking from their winter naps – if you walk by Prairie Pond or Upper Pond, you can hear the frogs croaking!  There are so many new birds out and about, and they are all singing at the top of their lungs and hurrying to make nests in the forest, prairie, and pond alike. We have even seen Turkey Vultures, and though they neglect to sing, they are another sign that the warm weather is back.

Spring is a wonderful time to look up and take notes of the phenology of our area. Phenology is the study of the timing of natural events from year to year, and is really cool to discover – here at River Bend, we have a monthly Phenology board, where our visitors can come and write what they saw while out on the trails, and then this gets recorded and we can compare to several previous years. We also have a great book written by our founder, Orwin Rustad, which is a recording of 50 years of natural events!

phenology book

Orwin Rustad’s A Journal of Natural Events in Southeastern Minnesota, a fantastic phenology read.

To give you an example of phenology, I’ll tell you what his book says about the timing of Turkey Vulture spring arrivals: over 12 years of recording their comings and goings, the earliest they arrived was March 12th, and the latest was May 30th! Their average though is April 14th-17th, so they are a bit early this year.


Turkey Vultures are a fun bird to spot during the spring and summer; they spend their time soaring high, looking like they are rocking back and forth in the wind on their  V-shaped wings.

One of the reasons phenology is important is that it helps us note changes through time. The reason I chose to look up the Turkey Vulture (other than the fact that they are amazing birds!) was that they were not very common birds in this area 50 and 60 years ago. Most of their sightings started in the 80’s and 90’s, perhaps indicating that Turkey Vultures were expanding their ranges in that time frame to include this area! If you are ever in the interpretive center and want to know more about the natural history of this area, check out this interesting book.

You can also take advantage of the gorgeous weather forecast and come for a hike and see the spring changes for yourself. Just today, school groups spotted Garter Snakes over by Honor Point, a Bald Eagle over the Strait River, and saw the turtles that have come out at Turtle Pond too! There are also tons of frogs and birds to see and listen to, so come to River Bend, explore, and then come contribute to our Phenology board.

phenology board

As you can see, River Bend visitors have already seen some amazing sights, and we’re only a week in to April! Come add your own observations!

After hearing the frogs start up around town or here at River Bend, are you curious to learn more? Then come to our awesome program on Saturday, April 15th: Fabulous Frogs! Hop on over to learn about what’s jumping around River Bend’s ponds – We’ll be learning about what makes Frogs so unique, creating our own frog chorus, as well as meeting our two froggy Animal Ambassadors! The program fee is just $5/person, $15/family ($3/member, $10/member family), and it runs from 10-1130, so come make a day of it here at River Bend – see the program and then go for your own hike!

Hope to see you soon!



Come learn all about Leopard Frogs and others at our Fabulous Frogs Program on Saturday April 15th from 10-11:30!

Waste Not, Want Not!


Reduce, reuse, recycle. We have all heard those words, and we know what they mean, but are they really important? YES!

Every household, every business, every school…everyone creates waste. In this day and age, it is really hard to avoid that. However, there are things we can do to minimize our waste and dispose of it responsibly. I’ll even let you in on a little secret, however first I need to explain where our waste is currently going.  

 Here at River Bend Nature Center, we have a winter educational program that brings us into the elementary schools throughout Rice County. We discuss the importance of managing our waste and practicing the “3R’s” both in school and at home.  This program serves as a good reminder, not only to the students, but to us Environmental Educators as well.  It’s easy to forget how big of an impact we can make. Rice County is not the only county with a landfill, nor is it the only county that produces waste. This information is important to all of us, no matter where we live.  

whats in the landfill

The average landfill has many unnecessary materials. How many of these need to be in the landfill?


The landfill that serves the entire Rice County is located in Dundas, at the Solid Waste Facility.  All of the garbage we put at the edge of our cub, or into our dumpsters, ends up at the Rice County landfill.  Our landfill is a way to safely dispose of our waste, and when landfills follow regulations, the environmental impact is minimized. However, it is definitely not the perfect solution. We are still disrupting habitats of animals, and using valuable land for our garbage. So what is the ideal solution?


Recycling is the easiest of the 3R’s, especially in Minnesota. Rather than putting waste in the garbage can, we put our recyclable waste into a recycling bin, and someone else does all of the work.  Our recycling is single sort, which means all we have to do is put it in one bin, similar to our garbage cans. A truck will come and pick up those recyclables, and the facility they are taken to will sort them into the different categories: Plastics, Metal, Glass, and Paper. At the recycling center each of those materials are shredded, melted or broken apart. Then they are sold off to companies that make new items from the broken down materials. The profits from selling the materials helps to cover costs of the recycling center.  Are you questioning if something is recyclable? Check the bottom, and specifically look for a recycling triangle; recycling triangles with any number (1-7) are recyclable, as well as anything made of metal, glass, paper, paperboard, and cardboard. If you still have questions, visit the Rice County recycling page: http://www.co.rice.mn.us/node/2218


Make sure you know what materials are recyclable!


The numbers in each triangle explain what kind of plastic it is made up of. In rice county, all plastics are recyclable.

Reusing is the second easiest of the 3R’s.  Reusing involves a little bit of creativity. Rather than sending waste to the landfill, you can create something new from it. In the classrooms we visit, we take toilet paper tubes and make bird feeders. We spread vegetable shortening on the tube, roll it in bird seed, stick a popsicle stick through the base, tie a string on it, and call it a bird feeder. This is a very quick and simple reuse project. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.  bird feeder.png

Reusing is the second easiest of the 3R’s.  Reusing involves a little bit of creativity. Rather than sending waste to the landfill, you can create something new from it. In the classrooms we visit, we take toilet paper tubes and make bird feeders. We spread vegetable shortening on the tube, roll it in bird seed, stick a popsicle stick through the base, tie a string on it, and call it a bird feeder. This is a very quick and simple reuse project. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.

Reducing is the most difficult of the 3R’s. It takes thought, time, and planning ahead. This is also the hardest to conceptualize because it is not tangible; it is a thought process.  The main idea with reducing is just that: to reduce, or to lessen, your waste. For example, when you go to a fast food restaurant and order a meal for a child, you get a plastic toy. I remember being so excited when I got those toys because it was new and shiney. But the excitement never lasted, and when I was finished with a toy, or even more often they broke, where did they end up? The landfill. My father often encouraged me to not take those toys, even though they were awesome, because they were just food for the landfill. Another way to think about reducing waste is thinking about a picnic. Packing paper plates, plastic utensils, and paper napkins is very convenient because there are no dishes involved; we can just throw them away and forget about them. But where do they end up? The landfill.  Rather than using those disposable materials, we can use cloth napkins, metal utensils, and plates that we can wash and put back in the cupboard. In that case the only waste we create is food waste which leads us to…

Composting is the bonus word for waste education. 14% of what goes into the landfill is food scraps, which can all decompose and be returned to the soil as nutrients.  However, in the landfill, engineers have discovered that decomposition creates excess gas (methane) which can create explosions and cause serious problems to the landfill.  Because landfills are packed so tightly, there is no air or space for decomposers to break the food down. Compost is broken down by worms living in the soil; they slowly eat things we throw into compost bins, and then they defecate the nutrients, returning them to the soil to be absorbed by plant life.  Rather than throwing food into the garbage and sending it to the landfill, we can put it in our compost bins, and then use that soil in our gardens to help our plants flourish.

Finally, my secret for you: the landfill in Rice County, the landfill that all of our garbage goes to, is going to reach full capacity in 20 years.  In 20 years, we are not going to have any place for our garbage to go. Up until this past year, it was estimated to last about 5 more years. Luckily, the engineers have come up with a solution to extend the life of the landfill, but I am sure we all still plan on having waste in 20 years. And at that point where will we put our garbage? Just about all of our land is currently being used for homes, schools, parks, and farms.  

Here is my challenge for us all: let’s start thinking about what to do with our waste now. Why wait until we have no more room for garbage to create a solution? Let’s focus on what we are doing with our waste now, so we can extend the life of our landfills even longer. This earth is our home, and we need to take care of it.  


For more information:

Rice county solid waste facility:  http://www.co.rice.mn.us/node/920

Rice county recycling: http://www.co.rice.mn.us/node/2218

Come Check Out the New Mural at River Bend Nature Center!


Hello everyone! As some of you may know I have been working on designing and painting the prairie mural of River Bend Nature Center’s north wall. The wall is coming along great and we are nearing the end of this project. However, before I go any further I would just like to say a big thank you to everyone who donated paint and helped make this project possible; as well as Anne Foxen, Johanna Beam, Erika Tipp, and Liz Brown for all you help over the last two Sundays with painting the foreground, detail, plants, and animals you all are amazing artists so thank you for helping make the ideas and designs come to life! Below I have included more information of what has been going into making this prairie wall come to life; as well as some sneak preview pictures of the wall. If you haven’t had the chance to come to River Bend Nature Center yet and see the wall I highly recommend it!

Designing the Prairie Mural

When it came to designing the Prairie Mural there were a lot of things I had to take into account. We already had the river mural on the west wall and a small prairie wood edge mural in the Kid’s Corner to the east of the wall so it made the most sense to incorporate these both into the prairie mural so it could flow almost seamlessly from one mural to the next. Additionally we have a beautiful large painting by Dan Milbert on this wall called “Pre-Settlement Spring” – Sandhill cranes, so I did not want to design a scene or landscape that clashed with this painting. Lastly we also have many mounted animals on the wall that we wanted to keep out on display so I also had to incorporate these into the wall, sounds easy enough right?


So how I designed the concept sketch and eventually the wall was taking the river from the river wall and having it flow on the wall from the west across the north wall to connect with the river on Milbert’s painting. I then extended the landscape of the forested hills in the back of Milbert’s painting on to the wall and connected it with the landscape in the background on the river wall. After this it got easy. By relying on my knowledge of prairie ecosystems I had a natural change in the landscape between oak savannah, mesic prairie, and wet prairie. I sketched forest along the river and transitioned it to oak savannah as the river bluff got steeper and blending into the rolling hills of the mesic prairie and into the depressions of the wet prairie. Lastly when it came to designing the overall concept of the wall other River Bend Staff and I moved some of the taxidermy around the wall to spots that made more sense for the habitat that species lived in.


The process of moving the bison head to paint

Then came the fun part compiling lists of the plants and animals I have seen here at River Bend Nature Center or other restored prairies in Minnesota as well as what you would historically find in oak savannah, mesic prairie, and wet prairie. I then divided the mural up into sections and started dividing the different animals and plants into these sections on the wall that made the most sense to see them. This also made it easier to keep track of what volunteers were working where on the mural.


One of many concept sketches


Painting the Landscape

After the overall design was approved I did a rough sketch on to the wall for where things went and then the painting began! I and Jason, River Bend’s Land & Facility Assistant, then primed and painted the wall the base sky blue. From there it was the process of mixing colors and giving color, shape, and shadow to the landscape; and depth to the sky with increasingly darker blues and clouds. Once the rolling prairie was achieved I moved on to the more complicated section of the mural adding the tree covered bluffs and the trees to the oak savannah as well as the river flowing behind them. The landscape has turned out great and I will continue to add touch ups and details here and there but it is the next step that I am really excited for that will really make the painting coming to life!




Adding the Plants and Animals

So now for the last two weeks Anne, Johanna, Erika, Liz, and I have been working on painting the foreground and adding the detailed plants and animals to the mural. My big project that is pretty much done now was painting a body for our bison head mount which if I do say so myself has turned out very realistic! Depending on where you stand looking at the wall it looks like the bison really is coming right out of the wall which is pretty incredible.


Elsa finishing up painting the Bison body

Erika, Annie, and Liz worked on adding the detailed grass in the mesic prairie under the bison. Additionally Erika and Liz did all the detailed flowers and plants under the bison, Erika also did a tiger swallowtail butterfly, and Anne painted the rocks and the thirteen-lined ground squirrel. Johanna took on the challenge of standing on a ladder painting a turkey vulture flying over the oak savanna which has turned out beautiful and so realistic!

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Lastly I did the foreground painting of the wetland and today and tomorrow I will be adding some wetland plants to it. The project is almost done with only some more detailed animals and plants that need to be added and each day we work on the mural it becomes more realistic and beautiful! So I hope you come to River Bend Nature Center to check it out as we finish it or when it is done!


A Day at the River Bend Sugar Bush – part II

We last left off with sliding down snowy and icy paths to collect buckets of maple sap. It’s been a few weeks now, and the River Bend sugar bush is working at full steam. With a total of about fifty trees tapped, we are continuing to collect sap every day with the help of staff and volunteers. On March 6th we collected a record amount of sap for the season—145 gallons! (This was produced by the trees in less than twenty-four hours)

Photo Credit: Stephanie Rathsack
In a record total for this year’s sap season, we collected 145 gallons of sap in less than twenty-four hours.

With that much sap alone we’d be able to produce about three and a half gallons of maple syrup. Our recent collection runs have been less icy, but far more muddy, making the treks through the sugar bush tricky at worst, and extremely messy at best.  But shoes full of muck is a fair price to pay for the increased sap production that occurs with days in the 40s and 50s.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Rathsack
With warm weather, sap bags (which hold about 2 gallons) can fill up quick!

And though increasingly warmer temperatures hark the end of the sap season, we expect to continue being able to collect through the end of the week, and into the following week as well. Meanwhile, the maple sap that has been collected up to this point is getting boiled down to begin the transformation from sap to syrup. This process requires high heat over a long period of time, for which we use a maple sap evaporator, which looks a bit like a giant wood burning stove. The sap is fed into the tank via gravity, and heat from the fire evaporates the water out, slowly decreasing the liquid in the sap and increasing the concentration of sugar.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Rathsack
We let gravity do most of the work, as the sap starts in a bin held high off the ground before traveling down into the boiling chambers.

Maple sap generally has a 2-3 percent concentration of sugar, and this must be increased to about 68 percent found in maple syrup. This immense reduction in water requires large amounts of sap to be boiled for several days before it is ready to be bottled as syrup. Again with the help of volunteers and staff, the evaporator gets up and running early in the morning, and requires constant supervision throughout the day in order to continue feeding the fire, monitoring sap levels, and preventing scorching.  Even after several days on the evaporator, the syrup still is not completely finished—it requires a period of time on a stove top where the heat can be more fine-tuned and the syrup can move through its final stages of processing.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Rathsack
Sap is “finished” over a stovetop where temperatures and consistencies can be monitored more closely.

As the sap reaches higher and higher sugar concentrations, it must be watched closely until finally after filtering one last time, bottling can begin. For long-term storage of maple syrup, specialized jars are purchased in a variety of sizes. River Bend bottles their syrup in large gallon jars down to tiny half-pint jars and everything in between. These jars of “liquid gold” will make appearances in a variety of River Bend programs and activities.


Want to learn more about maple sap production/taste a sample of this year’s bounty? River Bend is offering a variety of opportunities for the public to get involved in the fun of maple syruping:


Maple Syrup Open House– Celebrate syrup season at River Bend Nature Center! On March 18th, 2017 from 10:00AM to NOON there will be a variety of fun and FREE activities to participate in. Learn about the maple syruping process with trivia and taste tests and visit the sugar bush to collect sap, and see the evaporator in full swing.

Maple Syrup Fun Run- scheduled for Saturday, May 6th, 2017. Our races include a 50K, 25K, 10K and 5K trail runs (all jumbo clock timed) and a one-mile fun walk on an accessible paved trail (untimed). Race entry fee includes entry to our Pancake Brunch after the Fun Run, and a race shirt.

Maple Syrup Pancake Brunch– Come out to River Bend on Saturday, May 6th for delicious pancakes topped with River Bend’s own real maple syrup. Our pancakes will be cooked by the expert staff from Bernie’s Grill! We’ll also have sausages, coffee, and juice to accompany our pancakes.


Relaxation & Reflection at River Bend Nature Center


Hello everyone! As promised, here is my blog post about the quiet and less visited places at River Bend Nature Center. I hope your River Bend Bucket Lists are coming along great, and here is a post to help you check off another thing off your list! (https://rbnc.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/let-us-help-with-your-new-years-resolutions/) Recently, there has been a lot of research and news coming out about the health benefits of having quiet time in nature.  I have included links to some of the news articles that cover this research below but overall the research can be summarized into two groupings physical benefits and mental benefits.

The physical benefits make sense and include a lot of effects, from increased exercise outdoors, like a healthier physique, decreased risk for diabetes, decreased risk for asthma and respiratory disorders, and increased heart health. There is also growing evidence to support the mental benefits of being out in nature that may confirm your own personal experience of feeling mentally clear and emotionally better after spending time in nature. The list of mental benefits from spending time in nature includes: decreased risk for anxiety & depression, lower stress levels, increased cognition, and decreased risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few. Additionally, the last link I have included talks about how the brain benefits from silence because I am one of those people who likes to double dip on my health benefits, so in other words I meditate outside in nature.

List of some research on the health benefits of nature by topic


News Articles Covering Health Benefits of Outside




News Articles Covering Health Benefits of Silence



Below, I have included some great trails and spots for relaxation and reflection at River Bend. This is by no means a complete list, and each location has its pro’s and con’s. So I have divided them into 4 rough zones focusing more on the central part of the park that is easier to reach. I then have described the noise/traffic, how far/hard of a walk, and seating; and then the elements of the location views, sun, and mosquitoes so that you can pick the spots that fit you. I have also included a link to a map for places to park and trails to take to get to the spots. My personal opinion is that spring and fall are the best time of the year to sit in quiet places in nature because of the lack of bugs, the relatively warm temperatures, and if it’s a little damp in the spot you pick, all you need is a blanket or tarp and that makes it more fun. A quick thing to note is most of the locations I picked had benches, but some did not. When using the park at River Bend you should always use the trails and not create your own so if you plan on sitting on the ground, you can do so next to the trail. Additionally we want you to have a fun and safe time here so make sure to take the proper precautions depending on the time of year accounting for things like mosquitos, ticks, sunburn, ice, etc.

Here is the link to the Google map I have created with the different loops and spots labeled and more details about the spots as well as pictures to go with them when you click on them on the map!

Quiet Places at River Bend Nature Center

Here is an additional link to our trail map to help you find other trails and see exactly where the steep spots are located! http://www.rbnc.org/pdfs/TrailMap15.pdf


Overlook Loop – Prairie, sunnier, great views, more people, less mosquitos

The trails to the North Ridge Overlook, depending on the day and the trails you pick, can be busy. There is a nice mixture of habitat including prairie, woods, and some bluff habitat that at one time might have been oak savannah but now is a mixture of oak, aspens, and buckthorn. The trails can be a little steeper so you can get a mild work out in on your way up but the loop is only about 1 mile. The spot with the best view is the North Ridge Overlook itself, although close seconds are the Walnut & Overlook intersection and Ash & Raccoon intersection. I always find this loop very inspiring and invigorating and I feel that most of this comes from the views.  This loop gets a fair amount of traffic since most people like a spot with a view so my recommendation is to come during the early morning or work day if you want spots with views that are also quiet. Additional spots along the route I really enjoyed were the spring banding station that is the Ruth Wiberg Memorial, a collection of small hills by the North Ridge Overlook that were already dry after this most recent melt, and a bench hidden beneath some cedar by the Upper Parking Lot.


Walnut Loop – less people, can have more mosquitos, more peaceful scenery

The walnut trail gets its name from the stand of Walnut trees on the section of the trail that is a part of this loop. Walnut is less used by people so this makes it usually a quieter trail but there can be more mosquitos. The best way I can describe this loop is that the scenery is more peaceful – I always feel a calming effect when walking on or sitting along this trail. The whole loop is about 1.42 miles from the upper parking lot and back and at a gradual to steeper incline. There are also no benches so if you want to stop and sit for a while it will be on the ground next to the trail. There is however some great spots to sit on a blanket right next to the trail, just don’t forget to tuck your pants and wear bug spray!


Prairie Loop – more people, less mosquitos, sunny, great views

The Prairie Loop that I take has only three bench areas for sitting on, with two in the prairie and one sitting area on the Prairie Pond dock. There are, however, many spots next to the trail to sit down on the grass. The Prairie Pond dock is usually shadier and can have more mosquitos in the summer but in the spring and fall it has just as great views at the prairie spots. The prairie spots while they are the sunnier spots , but are more exposed to the wind and on a beautiful day can have a lot of traffic. This trail is also about a mile loop to and from the main parking lot by the interpretive center and is a pretty easy trail except for one steep part up into the prairie by Prairie Pond. The bench on the hill overlooking Prairie Pond is one of my favorite spots at River Bend Nature Center. It is a peaceful spot and I always have a hard time leaving this bench.


Cherry & Raspberry Trails Loop – less people, more mosquitos, mixture of sun & shade, great views, lots of peaceful spots

The Cherry & Raspberry trails loop had the least number of people I encountered at one of the peak times for people out in the park which is around 4 to 5 pm when everyone is getting off work. So if you are looking for less people on your quiet walk or coming by your quiet spot, I highly recommend this trail. This loop has a good mixture of habitat but the bulk of it is thick, damp, and shady woods, so the mosquitos can be a nuisance depending on the time of the year and the location so wearing bug spray in the summer is a good idea. Some highlights for this loop is that it takes you through some of the less visited restored prairie habitat and at the bend in raspberry there is a bench under a huge ancient tree that is a very quiet and peaceful spot. However, most of the sitting benches or spots with great views are near the road including the gravel pit, Upper Pond Dock, and the Waterfall. Depending on the time of the year the water falling is so loud it provides great background noise for covering up the sounds of cars. In the heat of summer it is a nice cool spot to visit, though there can be quite a few mosquitos and people there since it is close to the road. The Gravel Pit usually has wind blowing through it that pushes the sound of cars toward the prairie so it is not as noisy as it could be right next the road and it also tends to be more sunny are is one of the best spots for watching the sun set at River Bend Nature Center. This whole loop is about 1.25 miles and a mixture of gradual and steeper trail sections; I found the easier walk is going down cherry and up raspberry back along the road and you can either park at the waterfall or the upper parking lot. I have another favorite spot along this trail, but this one is a gem, so I challenge you to come out and hike it and see if you can find it!



River Trails Loop – less people, more mosquitoes, great river views, shady & cool in summer, calm and peaceful

In all honesty, I did not have the chance to explore the River trails as much I would have liked but they are what you would expect for floodplain forest trails along the river. They have great views and are very quiet. Maple trail seems to be less used by people and same with Trout Lily. In the summer I usually biked down trout lily so I don’t know how bad the mosquitoes were, but even with a good breeze from the river it probably would be a good idea to wear bug spray since it is a floodplain forest. There also are quite a few benches along these trails meaning if someone is on one bench you can walk farther down the trail to another one. The highlights for this loop I felt were the overlook bench on Maple trail above the river, the straight stretch of Trout Lily trail with all its benches where you know from the previous blog post was where the ice dam was located, and the view from Honor Point at the end of Trout Lily trail looking over the river and beach. Overall, this complete loop is about 1.65 miles starting and ending at the main parking lot; however with the multiple maple and owl trails connection to the loop you could break it up into shorter loops if you would like. The big thing to remember with the trails along the river is most of the trails leading down to the river are somewhat steep so it is going to be a work out getting back up to the parking lot either way.

I hope you enjoyed learning more about some of the quiet loops and spots closer to the parking lots in the main section of River Bend Nature. There still are many spots not mentioned here in the main part of the park as well in the outer trails just waiting to be found. So we hope you can come to River Bend Nature Center and explore some of the trails we mentioned and find some of your own favorite spots to read, relax, reflect, meditate, pray, etc. and as always enjoy being out in nature. I look forward to seeing you on the trails in these different spots, and good luck finding my other favorite spot!