Kids and adults in the greater Cedar Springs area have fond memories of field trips to Howard Christensen Nature Center—walking the nature trails, identifying trees, leaves, and birds, seeing wildlife in its natural habitat. But yesterday, January 19, was the last field trip for kids at Howard Christensen Nature Center. At least for now.
In a move that no one seemed to know was coming, the board of the Kent Conservation District voted last week to cease programming at the nature center on Red Pine Drive due to a funding shortage.
The Kent Conservation District took over funding operations at the nature center in 2006 after the Kent Intermediate School District closed it in 2005 due to budget cuts. “Administrative and financial support was provided to the community because Kent Conservation District believes in the mission of Howard Christensen Nature Center to help people connect with nature through hands on, site-based experiences,” said KCD administrator Conning Redding. (We) have worked steadily to increase the nature center’s independence since 2006.” She went on to say that the programming at the center has not provided the funding necessary for sustained operation, and that because of limited resources, the board had to withdraw from involvement with the center.
According to Director Kathy Reed, the 2011 proposed budget is $45,000. Besides Reed, who is a part-time director, the center was staffed by eight part-time interpretive instructors, and one volunteer interpretive instructor. She added that several volunteers put in over 1,000 hours last year helping maintain the center. “They are very important to the facility as well,” she said.
Reed said that over 2,500 students visited the center last year, and 864 people attended their programs—up 227 people from the year before.
She noted that although the facility is closed, the public can still access the nature trails at the south entrance.
“It’s been a real rollercoaster,” remarked Reed. “What makes me so sad, is all the people affected. I’ve heard kids are praying in Sunday School for it to reopen, and I’ve had a lot of phone calls of support from the community.”
Reed doesn’t consider the closing to be permanent. She said she is currently in talks with another agency that could be promising, but the discussion is just beginning.
She asked that those that want to donate to help keep the center open should monitor the situation, and as soon as she has news she will alert the public. “It’s then that we will need support,” she said.
In the meantime, if you want to leave a message of encouragement or say that you will donate, you can do it on their facebook group page. We will have a link to their group on our facebook page.