Student-Designed Education Stations Dot the Kansas Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s famous novel Little House on the Prairie took place in the 1870’s, when grassland stretched from North Dakota to Texas. Only 4 percent of that ecosystem remains today, and it’s considered one of the most endangered in North America. In Elmdale, Kansas, the home of Camp Wood YMCA, which provides year-round outdoor education for kids, prairie still covers 11,000 acres.
For the centennial of Camp Wood, it teamed up with Kansas State University’s graduate-level Design + Make Studio to build the Preston Outdoor Education Station. Design + Make was co-founded by David Dowell, also principal of the architecture firm El Dorado, with a mission to take on pro bono projects that contribute to the community, typically nonprofit organizations. For the camp, Dowell oversaw the creation of a 1,300-foot-long trail connecting different learning stations that engage directly with nature. The first one, Gathering Station, is built into a slope, with a dry-stacked limestone wall extending along one side of the trail. Another, Sky Station, simply a round platform of charred-cedar planks, invites children to lie on their backs and look upward, into infinity.