The Nature Center opened to the public Saturday. Granted, it was cold and sleeting, a typical spring day in Durango. Despite the weather, loyal docents Marcey Olajos and Sheila Payne showed up to run the Welcome Building at the top of the center just in case anyone decided to visit.
Even on such a cold day, a family with two kids came down to explore, as did two participants in our workshop, “Riparian Habitat and River Morphology,” taught by Durango Nature Studies Program Director Andrea Owens.
Even though the human turnout was sparse on such a cold day, the other Nature Center inhabitants were out in full force. Our residential flock of wild turkeys was out on the central trail, nesting birds were in our bird boxes, leopard frogs were singing and signs of bear, coyotes and muskrat were all around. Last week with a group of first-graders from Needham Elementary School, a red fox crossed our path. And, last summer, a family of river otters moved into the lower section of the Florida River that runs through the property.
The Nature Center is a special corridor along the river where animals tend to congregate. The variety of habitats, from riparian to sagebrush juniper, creates an ideal living environment for many species. The lush vegetation and serenity offers a special oasis, despite the more than 70 students who are there each morning. The evenings offer a time for rejuvenation as the wildlife replaces human visitors.
The Nature Center is closed from November through February every year specifically for this reason. We give the land time to recover from the trampling of little feet and allow the wildlife to be lulled into a sense of solitude and ownership, which we hope they don’t forget through the busy season.
The reason that the Nature Center is open to the public on Saturdays is two-fold. First, it is a wonderful community resource that has grown in popularity since we built our Welcome Building five years ago. Visitors looking for something to do can spend the day observing and learning about the flora and fauna of the area, walking our bird-box route, earning a junior naturalist badge or learning independently on our self-guided interpretive trail.
We also offer bimonthly workshops for the community about natural history topics. Some offered this season are: “Birds of the Nature Center,” “Monarch Citizen Science,” “Raptors,” “Invasive Species” and “Soil Ecology,” to name a few. In addition, we will be offering some fun activities, such as fly fishing, art in nature, a fireside chat and nature meditation.
The second reason we open the Nature Center to the public is connected to our school year and summer education programs. Since every Durango student in kindergarten to eighth grade comes to the Nature Center for environmental education, we believe it is important for students to have the chance to share what they have learned with family members. True appreciation and learning often takes place from sharing knowledge. Plus, the sense of place students and summer campers develop through time spent at the Nature Center is enhanced by exploring freely during unstructured time.
No matter the motivation, the Nature Center is special. It’s part of what is unique about our community. We hope that between May and October, folks will take advantage of all it has to offer.
As you drive through its gates, the prairie dog colony living at the entrance will be expecting you as yet another season begins.
Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at email@example.com or 382-9244.