Mission of Eagle Bluff Continues to Grow

Mission of Eagle Bluff Continues to Grow
By Charlie Warner, Bluff Country Newspapers
Wednesday, October 04, 2017 9:21 AM
(Used with Permission)

Nearly 40 years ago, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center near Lanesboro started out as a bad road, an A-frame house and a dream for Joe Deden.

“It’s come full circle,” Deden said as he provided a personal tour over a rough road on a hog’s back towards another A-frame structure.

Deden was providing a tour of the 150 acres of pristine hardwood forest, native prairie and breathtaking Root River frontage that Eagle Bluff recently purchased from the Allan Gavere estate. As he wove through the hardwood forest, he spoke with passion about this new dream.

“The Gavere family was kind enough to let us utilize much of their property over the years,” the Eagle Bluff executive director noted.

They were very strong supporters of the educational endeavors Deden and his staff were providing to area youth, as well as young minds throughout the U.S. and even internationally.

Over the past decades, Deden estimated Eagle Bluff has had more than a half million students enroll in the myriad of outdoor, conservation and environment classes and workshops.

With the 150 acres Eagle Bluff purchased this past August, Deden envisions more educational opportunities to an even greater number of students.

“Many of our school-aged classes and workshops were designed for elementary and middle school students,” Deden explained. “But with the development of this property, we will be able to offer more to the junior and senior high school students. This will be a remote blufflands eco facility for the older students,” he said, as he pulled into a clearing with an A-frame house, a 150-year-old preserved log cabin and the stone foundation that used to support a pioneer barn. These buildings are located about 1.5 miles from Eagle Bluff’s main campus.

The old pioneer barn was long gone before Deden settled in Fillmore County nearly 40 years ago. But the massive stone foundation remained in place. The aged stones beckoned to Deden to become an educational instrument. It took quite a spell before the usefulness of the massive stone walls came to fruition. But once all the paperwork was completed in August and the 150 acres and the buildings were officially part of Eagle Bluff, Deden moved forward with his vision.

He enlisted the help of nationally-known landscape designer Charles Seha to design a massive fire pit. Seha, who now resides in Fountain, holds a degree in horticulture from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in landscape design from the Conway School of Landscape Design. His professional experience includes many fine projects throughout the country. His award-winning work has been published extensively and he was chosen from a field of international specialists to design and implement large scale stone placement at the Quaker Hill Native Plant Garden in New York.

“To have someone of Charles’ expertise, living right here in Fillmore County to design this was fantastic,” Deden said.

“And then to get David Manley of Durango, Colo., to do the stone work has even made this project that much more special,” Deden added.

Manley is known throughout the southwest as one of the premiere stone masons.

The basement floor of the old barn was cleared, the large stones that make up the foundation walls were cleaned and grouted, and Manley spent nearly a month creating the handsome wall and fire pit that Seha had designed.

“This is going to serve as an amphitheater where students can put on plays and skits, a meeting place where students can gather and a learning place where teachers can teach,” Deden continued. “It is so quiet out here. It is so remote. It will be the perfect place for students to get totally back to nature.”

The A-frame house, which is adjacent to the barn foundation, will serve as a kitchen, dining hall and also a small dormitory. “We’ve still got some work to do on the A-frame. But once it’s complete, it will serve a number of purposes,” Deden added.

The buildings are definitely not the only positive aspects of Eagle Bluff’s newest acquisition. The 150 acres that stretch out to a point, with the Root River surrounding three sides, include hardwood forest, natural prairie grasses and native flowers, miles of trails and more than a mile of river frontage. Numerous spots along the river will provide for excellent fishing experiences. And a number of elevated deer stands will be available for young hunters who have enrolled in classes at Eagle Bluff and also have done volunteer work at the facility.

“This is something we’ve been considering and planning for a long time,”Deden admitted. “We just weren’t sure when to pull the trigger. But when the Gavere family offered to sell the property to us for $600,000, we knew it was time.

“So many persons from this area have been so generous with their donations and support,” Deden added. “There is no way we could have done what we’ve done without the tremendous support of so many.”

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