Illustration by Mary Crooks
  • 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.”

    Environmental Educator: Dave Pederson

    Real-World Geography: How people use geography and the geographic perspective in their everyday lives and real-world careers.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    archery Noun

    art and science of using bows and arrows for hunting, sport, or the military.

    backcountry adjective, noun

    sparsely populated rural region.

    canoe noun, verb

    small, open boat with pointed ends.

    climate Noun

    all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate
    communicate Verb

    to exchange knowledge, thoughts, or feelings.

    coordinates Noun

    a set of numbers giving the precise location of a point, often its latitude and longitude.

    cultivate Verb

    to encourage the growth of something through work and attention.

    energy Noun

    capacity to do work.

    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    forest Noun

    ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

    frequent Adjective


    geocache Noun

    container used in a treasure-hunting game of hidden objects (geocaches), usually found using a GPS device.

    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    Global Positioning System (GPS) Noun

    system of satellites and receiving devices used to determine the location of something on Earth.

    incorporate Verb

    to blend or bring together.

    nonprofit organization Noun

    business that uses surplus funds to pursue its goals, not to make money.

    Outward Bound Noun

    nonprofit organization whose mission is "To inspire character development and self-discovery in people of all ages and walks of life through challenge and adventure, and to impel them to achieve more than they ever thought possible, to show compassion for others and to actively engage in creating a better world."

    prairie Noun

    large grassland; usually associated with the Mississippi River Valley in the United States.

    Encyclopedic Entry: prairie
    region Noun

    any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    rural Adjective

    having to do with country life, or areas with few residents.

    shooting range Noun

    site where people may safely shoot guns at targets.

    snowshoe tracking noun, verb

    process of snowshoe-wearing people tracking animals in the outdoors, finding evidence through the animals' tracks or wingprints in the snow.

    social science Noun

    study that focuses on people, culture, and society.

    stewardship Noun

    responsible management to ensure benefits are passed on to future generations.

    stress Verb

    to strain or put pressure on.

    ultimate Adjective

    final or maximum.

    weather Noun

    state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.

    Encyclopedic Entry: weather
    wetland Noun

    area of land covered by shallow water or saturated by water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: wetland
    wilderness Noun

    environment that has remained essentially undisturbed by human activity.

    Encyclopedic Entry: wilderness
    Youth Conservation Corps Noun

    summer employment program administered by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service, for men and women age 15 through 18, "who work, learn, and earn together by doing projects on public land."