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BY RICH PATTERSON
When Lisa Ballard asked me to lead an early morning urban nature walk at OWAA’s McAllen, Texas, conference, I readily agreed. I led a similar well-received walk the year before at the conference in Lake Placid, New York.
Then I got cold feet. I’m well versed in wildlife and plants common in Iowa cities and suburbs and found almost the same familiar northern species 1,000 miles away in Lake Placid. McAllen is in a vastly different bioregion unfamiliar to me, and I realized I’d not be able to lead the activity.
A quick call to the Association of Nature Center Administrators solved the dilemma. They referred me to the Valley Nature Center only a few miles from McAllen. When I called program naturalist Hollie Johnston she volunteered to help and recruited Ken King a local natural historian. The two led the walk through an urban park pointing out an array of plants and wildlife common to the tropical McAllen climate and soil but totally new to me.
Nature centers are an outstanding, but a little used source for OWAA members seeking information on wildlife, plants, geology and outdoor recreation. Most nature centers are locally based and their staff naturalists have intimate knowledge of nature in their area. Some are operated by county or municipal governments, but many more are small nonprofit organizations. Need information about a bird, wildflower, rock formation, or a place for hiking or nature photography in an unfamiliar area? Your best source may come from the local nature center.
Typically nature centers own or lease a natural area in or near a town, are headquartered in a building with exhibits and employ naturalists. They host school children for outdoor experiences, and many urban kids first ambled in a wetland, prairie, or woods during a nature center visit.
If they don’t have the information needed they’ll likely have an outstanding contact person at a local college, Audubon chapter, or public agency.
“About 1200 nature centers are scattered around the United States and Canada and 350 of them are affiliated with (the Association of Nature Center Administrators),” said Jen Levy, executive director of the association. “They welcome visitors and are a wonderful information source.”
To find nature centers in your area visit the association’s website www.natctr.org.
–Rich Patterson is an avid deer hunter and member of the Circle of Chiefs. Contact him at email@example.com.