Creating Nature Connections That Lead to Conservation

Launching Ambassador Lands in East Indian Creek, Minnesota 

A critical part of our mission at Minnesota Land Trust is helping people who may experience barriers to access build connections with nature to deepen their appreciation for natural spaces and ultimately instill a conservation ethos.

Two men wearing orange hats smiling for a photo

Mark Norquist and Ronnell Lyn participate in the first Ambassador Lands event. (Photo credit: Hansi Johnson)

With this mission in mind, Minnesota Land Trust launched a new engagement program in 2021 called Ambassador Lands. The program connects groups seeking outdoor experiences to Minnesota Land Trust easement holders who have natural spaces to facilitate them.

The pilot project for this new program took place in East Indian Creek, Minnesota, on a property that could safely facilitate small game hunting for first-time hunters as it included the right habitat for small game and enough space to spread participants out safely.

Group participants were paired with mentors who helped create a welcoming environment and provided necessary instruction as well as a confidence boost, which was key for helping participants feel comfortable and enjoy the experience.

According to Mark Norquist, owner of Modern Carnivore, “Bringing a group of new hunters onto private land that’s carefully managed as part of a conservation easement created a unique opportunity to promote an educational experience that was safe and put these new hunters at ease. Not only did the new hunters and mentors appreciate the quality of the hunt, but learning about the property from the landowner enriched the experience at an entirely different level.

People sitting around a campfire at dusk with a tree silhouetted

Sitting around the fire at the on-site temporary “base camp.” (Photo credit: Hansi Johnson)

The two-day event also included educational talks at the temporary “base camp” location on-site and a cooking class. Both the new hunters and mentors found the experience to be positive.

Curry in a paper bowl topped with cilantro

Preparing squirrel curry at basecamp. (Photo credit: Hansi Johnson)

According to group participant, Alex Gorman, “Sitting around the campfire with my fellow hunters, enjoy freshly made squirrel curry, is where I first called myself a hunter, it was a life changing moment, and an experience I won’t soon forget!

Spending Time Outside to Build Connections with Nature

Today, most people live in cities and lack access to regular, meaningful nature experiences within their communities.

One study of people living an urbanized lifestyle found that 75% of all the time spent in nature was experienced by just 32% of the population. The same study found that feeling a connection with nature was positively correlated with spending time in nature.

When people spend time in nature, and especially when they engage with their natural surroundings in a meaningful way, like learning to identify plants or birdwatching, they cultivate a better awareness and appreciation for the environment.

And the beneficial mental and physical health outcomes associated with spending time in nature for both individuals and communities cannot be overstated.

These health benefits include lowering blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reducing nervous system arousal, enhancing immune system function, increasing self-esteem, reducing anxiety and feelings of isolation, promoting calm and generally improving mood.

Person wearing orange cap and holding a rifle across their lap sits in a wooded area facing away from the camera

(Photo credit: Hansi Johnson)

What’s next for Ambassador Lands?

Through the successful pilot project, we learned what it takes to partner with an organization and property owner to bring engagement experiences to life, including facilitating effective communication, building trust, and managing important logistics.

In 2022 we’re leveraging this knowledge to build more partnerships with the help of other property owners (maybe even you!). If you’re the owner of a protected property, what kind of experiences does your landscape support best? Birdwatching, angling, forest bathing…The sky’s the limit – including astronomy and star gazing!

How You Can Help

As a partner and supporter of Minnesota Land Trust, we’re seeking your help in order to serve more participants and help build more connections. If you have a relationship with a group looking for an outdoor space to facilitate a nature experience, we’d like to hear from you.

Similarly, if you’re a landowner who would be open to hosting controlled, small group experiences on your property, we’d love to hear from you and have a conversation about what kind of activities you’d be interested in supporting and what level of engagement you’re seeking.

Stay tuned this year for more Ambassador Lands stories as we further our mission of building connections with nature and each other, and work to bring the benefits of nature and the ethos of environmental conservation to more communities throughout Minnesota.

Learn more about Ambassador Lands and checkout the Ambassador Lands FAQ.

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