$130,000 outdoor learning space, 'Adventure Acres,' to be built at Carlos Elementary School

Fundraising opportunities will be taking place May 10, 11 and 20.

Adventure Acres is a new outdoor learning space being built at Carlos Elementary School.
Contributed drawing / Abbi Johnson

CARLOS — Carlos Elementary students will soon have a new learning space, thanks to three passionate teachers, supportive school administration and a parent activity committee, along with a very giving community.

Adventure Acres – an outdoor learning space – is the brainchild of Stephanie Groetsch, Abbi Johnson and Kristen Schmidt. Groetsch is a second grade teacher, dean of students at Carlos Elementary and a 2022-23 Minnesota Teacher of the Year semi-finalist, while Johnson is a K-5 science teacher and Schmidt is a kindergarten teacher.

“We had a blank slate in our field behind the bus garage and we started dreaming together and thought, how do we turn this into a wonderful hands-on learning experience where we can get kids outside and unplugged?” said Groetsch.

Johnson said with her background in outdoor education, she put pen to paper and drew their dream on a map.

The 160-foot by 210-foot area includes a trail system, different learning areas, a coniferous forest, an outdoor whiteboard/chalkboard, weather station, pollinator gardens, large sandbox, outdoor makerspace and more.


It will also include a building/pavilion that has been named the Cardinal Cabin. The 40-foot by 8-foot open structure will have electricity and will serve as a space for classrooms. It can also be rented out by the community for different gatherings and could also be used for music events, kindergarten graduation and other events that have always been held indoors, the teachers said.

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Stephanie Groetsch

Groetsch said getting kids outside is beneficial for their social and emotional health. Being outside puts students, as well as adults, in much better moods and just overall, makes them happier, she said.

“From my science perspective, too often we focus on teaching kids about what’s happening around the world, which is good and valid,” said Johnson. “But the beauty with this is they get to learn and understand the world through their backyard. And once they better understand the native world around them, it’s going to be easier to empathize and understand what’s happening around the world, as well. We will get to give them that platform of understanding what’s happening around them first.”

Timeline and funding

The goal of the three teachers is to have a good portion of the space, including the building, ready to go for school this fall, in September of 2023.

They said they have been fortunate enough already to have received some donations. Schmidt has applied for a grant from the Education Foundation for the makerspace area and sandbox. If that grant is approved, she said those will be able to go in the space this summer.

Kristen Schmidt

They believe that 75% of the project could be complete and ready to go this fall and that by spring of 2024, the whole project could be complete. Through donations they have received by several organizations, businesses and families, including Carlos Lions, Prairie Lakes Dental, Geneva Capital, Christensen Group, Hilltop Lumber and Alexandria Elks, they have a good start on the estimated $130,000 it is going to cost to complete the project.

There are other grant possibilities the three teachers are looking into, as well.

Businesses and individuals will be given recognition on the Cardinal Cabin in five donor levels, including the following:


  • Strength – $10,000 and up
  • Balance – $5,000 to $9,999
  • Climbing – $1,000 to $4,999
  • Imagination – $500 to $999
  • Collaboration – $100 to $499

Checks can be made out to Carlos PAC and sent to Carlos Elementary School, P.O. Box 129, Carlos, MN 56319.

Abbi Johnson

Big events

There are two big events coming up that are fundraising opportunities for Adventure Acres. On Wednesday, May 10 and Thursday, May 11, 10 cents from every gallon of gas purchased at Brother’s Market (Carlos location only), will be donated to the Adventures Acre project. The gas station, owned by Northdale Oil Inc., is located at 8170 Highway 29 (Carlos Corners).

“Northdale is a very family friendly, giving back company and we are super excited and appreciative that they are teaming up with us,” said Groetsch.

The other event, the Block Party Fundraiser, is set for Saturday, May 20. Festivities will begin at 4 p.m. with the gates opening at 3:30 p.m. It will take place at Carlos Elementary School. Tickets are $10 per person in advance and can be purchased at the school. They are $15 per person at the gate. The teachers noted that the event is cash only for tickets and activities.

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A flyer shows details of the Block Party Fundraiser's entertainment and activities.

There will be live music provided by The Blonde and the Bohunk, The Nobles, The Heyn Family and Rachel Meyer. Food vendors will be available and there will be face painting, bingo, a bean bag tournament and more.

T-shirts will also be for sale during the event. The Adventure Acres logo, which will be used on the shirt, as well as many other items, was drawn by Trent Radil, a fourth-grader at Carlos Elementary School. His design showing foot and paw prints was the winning design. Eight other students will have their artwork showcased on stickers that will also be available for sale during the event.

The Adventure Acres logo, which will be used for T-shirts and other items, was drawn by Trent Radil, a fourth grade student at Carlos Elementary School.
Contributed photo

“We have to give a huge shout out to our parent activity committee,” said Johnson. “They have been very helpful with getting everything set up and making phone calls and other fundraising events, like the recent family kickball event we had."


Groetsch added, "They are a very energetic group and we are very thankful for them.”

Last thoughts

Groetsch, Johnson and Schmidt are all very excited to see their project come to fruition, a project they only just started thinking about last spring.

“We’re excited to see what we can tap into for our students’ thinking,” said Groetsch.

Johnson said the beautiful part of outdoor education is that teachers get to become a mediator instead of someone that just pours information into kids.

“We get to walk alongside them and see their creativity and be in awe and wonder of the natural world,” she added. “We really get to be excited with them. I’ve learned in my 10 years of teaching that when you’re excited as a teacher, the kids naturally come alongside you. This is just another way to inspire and spark creativity and hopefully give the kids unique opportunities that will stick with them for life.”

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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