The Thomas Irvine Dodge Nature Center is an environmental education organization in Minnesota. It has four metro locations in West St. Paul, Cottage Grove, and Mendota Heights. Founded in 1967 by Olivia Irvine Dodge, the organization was one of the first nature centers in Minnesota. Dodge Nature Center and Preschool are nationally recognized in the field of environmental education.
The Center has more than 460 acres of prairies, hardwood forest, lakes, wetlands and miles of open hiking trails. It also has a working farm, orchard, bee apiary, and a variety of animals. Each year, the center is visited by more than 59,000 people for day visits, events, programs, camps, onsite preschool, school outreach, field trips and more.
The County acquired a 156-acre permanent natural area conservation easement on the Center’s property south of Highway 110 in Mendota Heights.
The easement — acquired for $500,000, much less than the actual value of the property — restricts all development except for a possible visitor center and provides public access as authorized by the Center. The protected property has a diverse landscape, including prairies, hardwood forests, a 10-acre lake, wetlands and hiking trails.
The property is adjacent to the planned Mendota-Lebanon Hills Regional Greenway that will eventually link Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan and Apple Valley to the Mississippi River in Mendota. The County recently acquired an additional 6.5 acres on the northwestern edge of the easement to construct a greenway tunnel beneath Highway 110.