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.