There is evidence that Native Americans camped near the glen prior to European settlement. Some of Cooper Township’s first European residents lived close to the glen, building their homes in the clearings made famous by James Fenimore Cooper in his book “The Oak Openings.” Families went for picnics, biology students for field study, ornithologists to observe and enjoy varied bird life, photographers to capture images, and botanists to study and enjoy the varied wildflowers and other plant life.
In the late 1950’s gravel mining and commercialism threatened Cooper’s Glen, so a group of community leaders came together to purchase the land and establish an outdoor environmental education center that would become known as the Kalamazoo Nature Center, one of the first nature centers in the country. ~ Glimpsing the Whole, the Kalamazoo Nature Center Story, 1995
Lisa Panich, Communications Director for the Kalamazoo Nature Center, joins us for a conversation.
Tell us about the KNC.
LP “The Kalamazoo Nature Center is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to inspire people to care for the environment by providing experiences that lead them to understand their connection to the natural world. We’re one of the largest and oldest nature centers in the country encompassing approximately 1,200 acres. Onsite we have 14 different walking trails encompassing more than 14 miles. The trails represent varied habitats from ponds to prairies, fens and forest, and all things in between.
Annually, we have more than 170,000 people visiting the Nature Center. They may walk the trails or participate in the many program offerings. These offers include DeLano Farms, and the historic DeLano Homestead, which educates school children and visitors about where their food comes from and how people lived in the 1800s. The award winning Nature’s Way Preschool at Oakland and Kilgore is one of the first nature-based preschools in the country. KNC camps offer children ages 3-17 sessions in the summer and for a week in the spring and winter. Coming soon is our new Urban Nature Park (four acres located in downtown Kalamazoo).
Part of our mission is educating people of all ages about the environment. Working with children is especially important to our mission, and we have numerous educational sessions available to all grade levels throughout the school year. Our Bird of Prey program is probably our most popular program. It offers the opportunity for students to learn about these amazing birds of prey and can include a live bird visit to the classroom. The birds are beautiful, and we are committed to their care. This care is expensive and requires 24/7 attention from our trained animal care professionals. Funds raised from ECCU’s ‘Make a Statement’ campaign will be used to care for these magnificent birds. Thank you, ECCU and members for your support!”
We know your Bird of Prey Program is one of your most successful. Why?
LP “There are many exciting ways children can learn about the world around them. Through our ‘Invite a Raptor to your Classroom’ program, and one of our most popular and successful programs, kids learn while interacting with a live raptor. The wonderful letters, we receive from the kids, reiterate what an impact these school visits with the birds have on them. Schools can also participate with our ‘Adopt a Raptor for the Classroom.’”
Tell us about “Outside in Our Schoolyard”.
LP “The primary goal of this program is to get students outside to explore, observe, appreciate, and connect with the natural environment in and around the schoolyard. This is the program’s fifth year, and we’ve seen the number of students increase from 68 in 2010 to 150 today. Four schools are involved, representing both urban and suburban neighborhoods. These schools include El Sol and Woodward Elementary in Kalamazoo Public Schools, The Montessori School in Kalamazoo, and Mattawan Elementary School.”
What’s next on the agenda?
LP “No Child Left Inside (NCLI) is a concept that is woven into all of our programming at the center. In 2008, Kalamazoo was selected by the Children & Nature Network & W.K. Kellogg Foundation as one of three communities in Michigan to design, facilitate, and implement a community-based process for improving the lives of vulnerable children. The aim is to shape happier, healthier, kids who do better in school, through direct connections with the outdoors in their everyday lives. Research has shown that childhood obesity, diabetes, depression and attention deficit disorders may be improved by reversing the current trends which disconnect children from nature.” The ongoing Outside in Our Schoolyard program mentioned above was a direct result of the NCLI initiative.
We know you love kids. What about your conservation efforts?
LP “Working alongside individuals, our Conservation Stewardship Department looks to enhance an individual or organization’s property for the development of wildlife habitat. Part of the process is to encourage environmental awareness and stewardship while we provide the education, resources, and assistance necessary to improve ecological systems. Our biologists also consult with and serve as a liaison between homeowners, businesses, and government agencies. As we provide the tools for citizen science, our volunteers, or ‘citizen scientists,’ assist with valuable research on numerous projects. KNC is also home to the Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory and the Michigan Butterfly Network; both conduct extensive research on migration and threatened species.”
The Kalamazoo Nature Center will be internationally recognized as the premier source for environmental information, education, and research to achieve a world respectful of its surroundings.”
That’s your vision statement. How did it come to be?
LP “We’ve been part of the community for 54 years. Kalamazoo resident, Dr. H. Lewis Batts, Jr., was a nationally known environmentalist at the time and the driving force behind the purchase of Cooper’s Glen and the incorporation of the Kalamazoo Nature Center in 1960. Dr. Batts continued to serve as the center’s volunteer Executive Director until his retirement in 1989. Dr. Willard M. Rose was then hired to lead the organization. Today, we’re recognized as one of the top nature centers in the country which includes a substantial amount of beautiful, wooded acreage north of Kalamazoo.
The DeLano Farms is a ‘CSA.’ What is it and how did it start?
LP “CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Simply put, this is a community-based economic model where local food consumers and local food producers provide each other with mutual support and share in the benefits of food production. At DeLano Farms, CSA members pay up front for a share of the farm vegetables, and then select a bag of the harvest each week throughout the growing season.”
What food do you provide in a ‘share?’
LP “We distribute approximately 20 weeks of produce throughout the session. $700 divided by 20 weeks is about $35 worth organically grown vegetables every week, though volume varies by season. For example, a late June share could include lettuce, arugula, kale, brassica salad mix, fennel, collards, scallions, garlic scapes, Swiss chard, and basil. An October share would likely include decorative gourds, acorn squash, cilantro or dill, lettuce mix, beet greens, carrots, potatoes, red sweet peppers, hot peppers, parsley, scallions, and onions. The DeLano Farms CSA also offers a bonus u-pick option inviting shareholders to harvest other items themselves at no extra cost such as flowers, cherry tomatoes, herbs, etc. The farm also has educational programs and guest chef visits to show people how to use the food in their weekly shares.”
How about the Urban Nature Park? What’s the status?
LP “The Urban Nature Park project is one of the many efforts to restore and revitalize downtown Kalamazoo and its waterways. The Urban Nature Park also seeks to provide important green space for people living in and around downtown Kalamazoo. Plans to restore the historic railroad bridge across Portage creek are underway, and we hope to complete the restoration and revitalization by summer of 2015. This coming spring we will complete the final grading, and a layer of topsoil will be applied. Following that, we will plant native plants, shrubs and trees in the wetland area of the project. Plants have been selected based on historical records, as well as soil types, and optimal species for birds and butterflies. We’re encouraging the community to be a part of this unique urban restoration effort. Any and all volunteers are welcome to help in this truly unique community project.”
To find out more about volunteering for the Urban Nature Park, please contact Anna Kornoelje at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What can our members do to help?
LP “Become a member or stop out for a visit! Participating in our program offerings will help you to learn more and become closer and more connected to the environment. Membership includes free admission for the year, reduced rates for classes and camps, and a discount in the Expedition Shop. Donation and volunteer opportunities are always plentiful, too.”
Check out KNC #makeastatement videos: