November 28, 2012

Eric Barnard

If you’re looking for something to do in Winona, Eric Barnard ’11 has a few ideas.

Barnard is director of the Outdoor Education and Recreation Center at Winona State, which opened this fall. During the center’s first month, Barnard has sent more than a thousand students, faculty, staff, and community members into the great outdoors, inspiring them to develop a closer relationship with the land they inhabit.

He moved back to Winona in 2009 – Barnard attended WSU briefly as an undergraduate and his wife, Amber ’02, is an alumna – with plans to create an outdoor education program based on one he had seen as a student at Idaho State University. “There’s more potential for outdoor recreation here in Winona than any community in the U.S.,” he says in an office stocked with ropes, backpacks, and camping equipment.

A busy two years followed. While he earned a master’s in educational leadership, Barnard looked at other centers, gauged campus and community interest, built partnerships, and developed operation plans. In August 2012, the center was open and Barnard’s dream of making Winona State a nexus of outdoor activity a reality.

The Outdoor Education and Recreation Center provides everything an outdoorsman – experienced or novice – needs to enjoy the bluffs, backwaters, and prairies of southeast Minnesota. Barnard and his student staff also organize outings, offer instruction on enjoying the outdoors safely, and help faculty build outdoor experiences into their courses.

“All of the equipment and expertise is in one place,” says Barnard. “If people know what opportunities we have here, and we make it accessible, they’re going to get out there.”

Love for the outdoors comes naturally to Barnard. As a boy he roamed the refuges around Baraboo, Wisconsin, with the grandson of Nina Leopold. Her father, scientist and writer Aldo Leopold, was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and wilderness conservation.

Barnard discovered a lifelong passion at 20 when he climbed his first rock. He earned his bachelor’s in outdoor education and later became an instructor at the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming. Now he’s found a hold in Winona, spending his days teaching climbing, map and GPS navigation, paddling, and outdoor ethics.

He sees similar potential in the Outdoor Education and Recreation Center. “We don’t want users of the center to go kayaking just once, or climbing once,” says Barnard.

“Our goal is to inspire them to do these things the rest of their lives:  to be healthy and develop an appreciation and become advocates for the outdoors.”

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