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Eloise Butler continues teaching Minneapolis kids nearly 80 years after her death

Minneapolis Public Schools 4th graders enjoy a hike through prairie grass and wildflowers.

The Eloise Butler Wildflower and Bird Sanctuary in Minneapolis was, for me, one of those “going-to-stop-there-someday” places. I finally visited for the first time a couple of summers ago. As part of a science-focused summer school curriculum, the Minneapolis School District made it possible for all of the 4th grade summer school classes to take a field trip there. Ms. Butler would have loved the idea.

I’d driven by the sign on Theodore Wirth Parkway many times, but never knew who Eloise Butler was. On that field trip, I learned along with my students that she taught science in the Minneapolis Public Schools for 36 years, and became well-known for taking her students “botanizing” in the forests and bogs of the area.

Eloise Butler
Photo from a Minneapolis Park Board information signEloise Butler loved exploring the forests and bogs of Minneapolis.

Eloise Butler believed strongly what I and a lot of teachers still do, that the best way to teach students about natural science is to help them experience it first-hand.

Students make observations at the Quaking Bog
MinnPost photo by Steve DateStudents make observations at the Quaking Bog.

Quaking Bog micro-hike
MinnPost photo by Steve Date

Worried about the growing city of Minneapolis encroaching on natural areas, Butler, along with several other MPS teachers, persuaded the Minneapolis Park Board to set aside a small, 20-acre parcel of land as a natural garden. This “Wild Botanic Garden” opened in April of 1907.

Wild Iris
MinnPost photo by Steve DateWild Iris

Anemone flower
MinnPost photo by Steve DateAnemone flower

The nature sanctuary is the oldest public wildflower garden in the U.S. and contains more than 500 plant species and 130 types of birds. Amazingly, this small piece of land exhibits 3 distinct habitats — forest, wetland and prairie. Barely a couple of miles west of downtown Minneapolis, it’s a quiet little pocket of natural beauty.

The Eloise Butler Wildflower and Bird Sanctuary
MinnPost photo by Steve Date

The Eloise Butler Wildflower and Bird Sanctuary
MinnPost photo by Steve Date

The sanctuary is open from April to October and admission is free. There are a variety of programs and activities available, including naturalist-led hikes and specialized classes such as Gardening with Wildflowers, Medicinal Plants of the Garden, and Wildflower Photography. You can also just wander on your own on the paths and conduct your own self-guided tour.

A bee works the False Blue Indigo
MinnPost photo by Steve DateA bee works the False Blue Indigo.

Pink and White Lady Slipper, the state flower of Minnesota.
MinnPost photo by Steve DatePink and White Lady Slipper, the state flower of Minnesota.

Eloise Butler died in the park in 1933. Her ashes were scattered in the place she loved. She left a wonderful legacy for the city of Minneapolis. It makes me happy that she was a public school teacher in my city.

She knew that if the city would agree to keep this place in its natural state, that children — and adults — would always be able to visit and “let nature be your teacher.”

The Eloise Butler Wildflower and Bird Sanctuary
MinnPost photo by Steve Date

Thank you, Eloise Butler. Because of your belief in the importance of teaching children by immersing them in nature, coupled with your diligence and foresight, Minneapolis children are still learning in your special place.

Eloise Butler's legacy of teaching Minneapolis Public School students continues
MinnPost photo by Steve DateEloise Butler’s legacy of teaching Minneapolis Public School students continues.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Rod Loper on 06/08/2012 - 07:26 am.

    This special place

    is where I go several times a summer to refresh and appreciate. I sometimes gripe at noisy kids
    but Butler meant it to be a place for learning. Your fine post here is a helpful reminder.

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