Environmental Educator: Dave Pederson

Environmental Educator: Dave Pederson

Dave Pederson is the executive director of Minnesota's Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center.


5 - 12+


Earth Science, Experiential Learning

Dave is the executive director of the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, a nonprofit organization located on 500 acres of land near Spicer, Minnesota. Prairie Woods offers a wide variety of outdoor programs, from historic canoeing trips to snowshoe tracking to days on the shooting range.

Dave is responsible for the overall program and operations of Prairie Woods.


Dave grew up on a small farm in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota. He frequently explored the rural region with his two brothers.

“We’d have great adventures going across the field over to Elkhorn Lake, which is all built up now but at that time was just wild land and forest,” Dave says.

While pursuing a degree in social science at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Dave realized that he wanted to incorporate his love of nature into his career.

“When I was in college, I really knew that I was interested in working with people, and I was interested in the outdoors,” he says. “I really became more and more interested in the effect that wilderness and outdoor experiences have on people and the character development aspect that could happen.”

After college, Dave worked in outdoor programs in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, at Black Sturgeon Lake in Ontario, Canada, and in Anchorage, Alaska.

“What I got into out of school was working with what are called adventure-based treatment programs and Outward Bound Adaptive Programs, and I did that for a number of years in some really interesting and beautiful places,” he says.


“What is most exciting is when you see kids or adults involved in the programs, and they are really lit up. That’s why we are doing what we are doing ultimately. We are trying to make kids make that connection with enjoying the outdoors and feeling some responsibility for environmental stewardship.”


“The stressful part of the job is being the person who is ultimately responsible for the care and feeding of the organization and making sure that we are delivering safe, high-quality programs that can only be done with a lot of really good people doing their job.”


“Trying to reach an understanding of how the place affects people and how people affect place. Also, what are the factors and the variables that come into play in creating a place and a sense of place.”


Dave says the purpose of Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center is to learn about the geography of the region.

“I think what we do is all about understanding how are we connected to self, others, and the environment,” he says. “And how are we connected to this place? And what is our responsibility to the place? And what are the limitations of the place?”

Dave notes that weather and climate are often limitations for the local community. “It takes a lot of energy to live in Minnesota,” Dave says. “So how do you do that in a responsible way?”

Prairie Woods offers a variety of activities for visitors, from archery to snowshoe tracking. One program, “Geo-Geo-Geo Caching,” gets participants to explore different geographic features on the facility’s 500 acres, from forest to prairie to wetlands. Geocaching is a game where players use GPS coordinates to find hidden "treasures."


“It’s really important to try to cultivate your personal relationship tools and your ability to communicate.”


Dave suggests individuals do some backcountry travel, and for young people to look into working for the Youth Conservation Corps.

“It’s a way to learn about the environment but also to learn about working with other people to complete projects,” he says, “how to be successful with communication, cooperation, creative problem solving.”

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Stuart Thornton
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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