"I remember not having the opportunity to learn about nature until long after college, taking a lunch break from an office job. A short drive away was a park and in that park was a nature center. I began hanging out there most lunch hours and later had the opportunity to work there as a naturalist.
Besides the restless assortment of school kids on an environmental education outing, there were us regulars: an assortment of neighborhood kids, part-timers, volunteers. and even the dropped off (by a working mom). We spent time cleaning up animal cages and pony stall, assisting in environmental education programs like maple sugaring, and delving into personal projects of special interest.
Special interests included: perfecting nature art illustration, Native American technology skills like making arrow heads, and for me, it was working on native plants and habitat restoration. Over the years, tuned into the natural world around us, we lived the changing seasons from Summer to Fall to Winter to Spring. Woth the passing of seasons, there were always plenty of opportunities to explore, to learn something new, and to live in an appreciation and love of nature. --- Mindy Block
What does a nature center mean to a community?
Nature Centers differ in their informal approach to environmental education. There's more time spent in the field, getting dirty, practicing hands on skills, and being mentored by someone with extensive knowledge. Mentoring can last a lifetime and isn't subject to year to year changes in classroom instructors. There's also a greater opportunity to take part in serious environmental stewardship activities. Nature Centers and their staff may also participate in: ongoing monitoring of wildlife populations (providing baseline data to regulatory agencies), collaborative grant writing, advocating for open space preservation, providing opportunities for local naturalists to "sell their wares" as local experts on a variety of topics that further extend environmental outreach, in managing surround public lands.
How are nature centers financed?
Unlike schools that receive money via school district taxes, nature centers primarily rely on grants and donations. Much effort is spent on fundraising to cover building upkeep, insurance, staff salaries and benefits, and marketing. Becoming a member or making a donation helps cover some of these costs, while connecting you to additional networking opportunities. However, some nature centers are for-profit, relying on programs and other revenue streams.