What is a Nature Center? A Legacy of Science, Outdoors, and A Resource Hub!
By Ann Hutchinson, Lead Naturalist
“I LOVE this place!” I have heard this many times over the course of 32 years of teaching and facilitating nature-based experiences for people at the Maplewood Nature Center. Being in nature relieves stress and helps improve your overall health. In addition, professional naturalists bring a depth of knowledge and expertise to the outdoor experience. How rewarding it has been to be able to share knowledge on helpful and poisonous plants. Or to supplement school science curriculum with activities where students can touch, feel, and explore as part of their nature studies. Students observe, hypothesize, and draw conclusions on their field trips to the Nature Center, or to one of Maplewood’s 14 Neighborhood Preserves.
The Maplewood Nature Center will be celebrating 40 years of service to the community. Join us Saturday, September 21, 1 - 3:30 p.m. to celebrate the Nature Center’s legacy and success in enhancing awareness and understanding of the land, water, and wildlife resources, and to empower the community to become stewards of the environment.
It all began in 1979 thanks to dedicated Parks Commissioner Joe Fox and Community Services Director Eric Blank. With Land and Water Conservation Fund grant money, the Nature Center was born. Trails, bridges, benches and boardwalks, and a visitor center were established on the 40-acre site. James McKee, Megan Strike, and Chris Soutter were the first land manager and naturalists hired by the city. A partnership with the community education funding transportation brought school children from the North St. Paul, Maplewood, Oakdale School District 622. Funding was cut in 1988, but through new fees and creative programming, the Nature Center thrived and became dear to many volunteers who helped teach children. There are now over 100 active volunteers who volunteered more than 2100 hours; equivalent to $52,000 (in 2018) to help the Nature Center serve the community.
In 1993 a referendum was passed to allow the city to purchase open space sites to help the city preserve its natural areas. In 2001 the Nature Center hired its second land manager, Ginny Gaynor, to manage the neighborhood preserves. Through the Nature Center’s Watershed Watcher’s program, thousands of students planted over 60,000 native plants throughout the city’s raingardens; learning about the benefits of raingardens to prevent pollution and flooding from stormwater runoff. Today, Naturalist Carole Gernes teaches and conducts many adult, plant, and animal programs; coordinates the city’s Citizen Science programs including going out on evening surveys listening for frogs. Hearing a variety of species gives us information about the health of the city’s wetlands. Naturalist and Volunteer Coordinator Oakley Biesanz loves leading multi-cultural hikes such as the translated walks in Hmong, Somali, and Spanish. She also manages the Edgerton Community Garden, now celebrating its 10-year anniversary with the new improvements installed this past year including ADA accessible beds and water spigots. Naturalist Konnie Her wrote a Wetland Bird curriculum for third grade. As for myself, beginning as a young Naturalist in 1987 and serving as Lead Naturalist for 32 years, I am proud of all that we have accomplished to become the program hub for nature-based education, natural resource management, and stewardship.
What will the next forty years bring? Change is guaranteed. This past year the Nature Center has been involved in a Master Planning process. Three stakeholder meetings were held, four meetings with staff, and input gathered from the public with online surveys and in house written surveys. Overall people love what is here and want to see us expand our offerings. Ideas were submitted for expansion of the building so larger groups could be accommodated, expanding programming at the Nature Preserves, and trail improvements.
See a draft of the Master Plan.
|Maplewood Nature Center in 1979|