Nature A-Bounds! at the Fenner Nature Center

Right in the heart of Lansing, kids are getting lost in the woods. Don’t worry, that’s a good thing.

Thanks to a $14,750 grant to Fenner Conservancy, Fenner Nature Center’s Nature A-Bounds! program is serving more than 1,650 Head Start students in Ingham, Eaton, Clinton and Shiawassee counties by getting them active in the outdoors. Whether the kids — and their families — are interacting with the environment at their local nature center, their school or their own backyard, they’re getting a clear message: Unplug and get outside. There’s so much to be discovered out there!

The Community Foundation’s grant was exactly what Fenner needed to bring the Nature A-Bounds! program to life. “We had received a grant from the PNC Foundation for the program, but it was less than we budgeted for,” said Jason Meyer, Fenner’s executive director. “The Community Foundation grant enabled us to hire a full-time staffer to run Nature A-Bounds! The program will send us into 15 Head Start schools over the next three years to deliver outreach nature programming on-site and to work with teachers to implement a week-long nature lesson.”

Meyer said Nature A-Bounds! also shows teachers how they can use their school grounds for nature lessons, and it pays for field trips to their local nature centers to keep learning. “We know the kids in Owosso aren’t going to come to Fenner, so we pay for them to go to DeVries Nature Conservancy,” Meyer said. “If they’re on the west side of Lansing, they go to Woldumar. We’ve done staff training now at all the nature centers. It’s a huge program.” And as the first year of the program wrapped up, teachers were already calling Fenner to see about getting on the schedule for the new school year.

When I was 7, I discovered leeches. I had no idea that’s what they were, and I was pretty sure I was the next Darwin. That was an amazing time in my childhood. It’s why I’m so invested in the education work I do at Fenner. I want kids to have those experiences as soon as possible so they can have the benefit of it as long as possible."

— Liz Roxberry, Fenner program manager

Broadening Horizons

Nature A-Bounds! aims to engage the entire family in environmental education.

Liz Roxberry, Fenner’s NAB coordinator, said you don’t have to live on rolling acres of land to experience nature.

“We consistently hear, ‘We don’t have a great big swath of land where we can take our kids to learn,’ ” Roxberry said. “Part of what we do with NAB is show them you can learn about nature in a parking lot. You can look at edge ecology, where nature bumps up against man-made things. You can look at a downspout and look at water ecology in ways that are meaningful, even though it’s on a smaller scale.

“It’s a great message for those who may not have these wide expanses that we do at Fenner to still get out, enjoy it and learn.”

As a result, Roxberry said, more families are coming back to Fenner to learn about how they can be more involved in simply being outside. “Part of our in-kind contribution is to offer memberships to low-income families so they can get reduced-cost programming through Fenner,” she said. “We may not see the impact from this for another 10 or 15 years, but it’s important. Fenner’s mission is longterm sustainability for everyone. The more we can share that message, the better we’re going to be long term.”

Meyer said the Community Foundation’s support is invaluable for Fenner. “This is one of those grant programs where everything just worked.”

“And it keeps getting better,” Roxberry added.

Facts about Fenner

Fenner Nature Center is an environmental education center encompassing 134 acres of green space. Its mission is to connect people to nature in the heart of Lansing through conservation, education and stewardship.

Now run by the nonprofit Fenner Conservancy, the property includes more than four miles of trails, including two handicap-accessible, paved trail loops.

Inside the visitor center, check out their collection of live native reptiles and amphibians; watch songbirds, deer and wild turkeys through the large picture windows; and explore the hands-on children’s exhibits.

When was the last time you went wild?

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