Preston Outdoor Education Station

The Preston Outdoor Education Station is part of the YMCA’s Camp Wood, located west of Cottonwood Falls, KS, in the heart of the Tallgrass Prairie. The site is close to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, the National Park Service’s only park devoted exclusively to this landscape. The Tallgrass Prairie stretches from southern Nebraska to central Oklahoma in a fifty-mile wide vertical band. Due to its specific geology and the presence of abundant surface rocks, the land is difficult to develop and farm. It represents 4% of the original Tallgrass Prairie and is considered to be one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America. The studio was asked to develop an infrastructural backdrop to assist counselors in their work of connecting young people to this beautiful, yet subtle landscape.


Throughout the fall semester the studio got to know the prairie and the client. Ironically, none of the students were aware of the landscape, though the university is situated within it. They also began the slow process of acquiring the skills necessary to execute the project. They learned traditional limestone masonry, welding and carpentry. In the college shop they familiarized themselves with the range of tools available to them – digital fabrication equipment and traditional tools. They forged relationships with a number of skilled and unskilled craftspeople familiar with the Camp. At the end of the Fall Semester two different approaches were presented for consideration to implement. One gathered counselors and campers in a centralized space where teaching could happen in an environment slightly removed from the prairie. The other presented a linear pathway of stations, each focused on a different attribute of the landscape – wind, flora, fauna, geology and atmosphere. Camp Wood director Ken Wold and his staff felt that both approaches were worth pursuing so students spent the winter break consolidating their work into a unified whole.


The Spring Semester focused on field construction, shop work and coordination with a host of subcontractors and suppliers. Although a complete design was required before construction could commence, including input from structural and civil engineers, the students took full advantage of an integrated design-build model to allow refinements to the design in response to field conditions and a never-ending process of rethinking improvements to the design.

Images and Plans


Technical Description

The students managed an all-inclusive budget of $150,000, including professional consulting and subcontracted work. The majority of the project was completed by graduation in May 2016, though a few loose ends were completed later in the summer by the students. In the final evaluation the work was successful in meeting Camp Director Ken Wold’s two sole requirements for success – 1) that the work disappear into the landscape, and 2) that the work facilitate a deep bond between people and place.


  • 170 tons of limestone were used. 95% of the stone used in the wall came from the excavation of the site. The remaining 5% of the stone came from the local quarries that are within a 20 mile radius.
  • 4000 Linear feet of charred wood. The wood was charred, a process call Shou Sugi Ban, to protect it from the annual prairie burns. 
  • 1700 inches of mig stitch welding. Six students became AWS Certified Welders.


Torrence Campbell, Luke Custer, AJ Henry, Brent Higgins, Phil Macaluso, Alex Martinez, Kelsey Middlecamp, Briana Reece, Jake Rose, Sevrin Scarcelli, Blake Toews
YMCA Camp Wood
Ken Wold
Collaborating Organisations
Other Collaboration
el dorado inc
Luke Koch
Kelly Kindscher

Academic Discipline(s)
13 Students
Academic Facts

Project Start
Project Context
Community / Culture | Environmental Protection
Construction Methods/Techniques