A hidden gem in the woods of Okemos

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On the south bank of the Red Cedar, hiding behind thick oak trees and melting snow sits Meridian Townships hidden gem: The Harris Nature Center. A little building with a big job- preserving the surrounding quality of nature.

The Harris Nature Center, established in 1997, is home to six miles of various wildlife and nature trails. The work done at the center and by its faculty prove the animals are not the only ones dedicated to their ecosystem.

The Harris Nature Center offers learning opportunities for all ages and special events for every season.

Little girl creating a craft on Groundhogs day at Harris Nature Cetner

Shelby Sacco

A participant creates a craft on Groundhogs Day at the Harris Nature Center.

“We have all kinds of activities going on,” said Kit Rich, a senior park naturalist. We have school groups that come out, we have programs that we take to other places. Sometimes we go to a school or to a senior center. We have public programs that are specifically for young children such as preschool science explorations.”

Some examples of those preschool programs are Chipmunk Story Time and My Cub and I.  All of these activities provide a way to teach the citizens of Meridian Township more about their ecosystem. They provide ways they can personally help to preserve it, just as the Harris Nature Center has been doing.

Chipmunk Story Time is a series of interactive learning activities for children. Children are engaged in nature stories followed by crafts, games and an open walk on the twisting trails. While making crafts, little eyes watch them from the surrounding cages filled with live turtles, snakes and frogs.

Sally Sedlar, a mother who regularly brings her daughter to the story time, said, “The program is just awesome. It introduces my daughter to nature, to different animals just different things she wouldn’t get to learn at preschool so it’s nice to add this on top of what she is learning.”

The Harris Nature Center also offers programs where families get to participate first hand, allowing them to watch their children grow while interacting with these activities. Rachel McDaniel, a 22-year-old Michigan State graduate with a degree in Natural Resource Recreation and Tourism and a minor in Environmental Sustainability, works as an assistant park naturalist.

McDaniel said, “I love to teach my cub and I because it starts their curiosity for nature at an early age and it’s fun getting to know the kids and their families over the six weeks of classes.”

The activities provided by the nature center are not contained to solely indoors.

Harris Nature Center bulletin board advertising events.

Harris Nature Center bulletin board advertising events.

“We are a small nature center with a small staff, but we do many different kinds of programs: campfires, guided night walks, summer day camps, birthday parties, school groups, et cetera,” said McDaniel.  

Outside of the nature center sits a large turtle sculpture where kids are welcome to play and climb, which is a part of the Nature Exploration Center. It immediately catches a child’s attention with its other attractions; kids can dig for Michigan fossils in a sand pit, climb on a giant spider web, or explore a log jam.

Carrie Lloyd, a mother of three little girls said, “I’ve brought my kids to the day camp during the summer and to Chipmunk Story Time. They get to learn about the environment so we make the effort to come.”

Other attractions the nature center has to offer can be found online or in the Meridian Township Parks and Recreation Family Fun Guide. Listed are events such as cross country ski class, moonlight ski and shoe, photography class, owl prowl campfire events, turtle time, and an event called howl at the moon. Rich said howl at the moon is her favorite ongoing event.

Rich said,“Basically […] it’s a guided night walk. You get to come right as it’s getting dark and then we take everyone on a walk through the woods. As it [gets darker] you can see the sun and the moon and because we call it howl at the moon we encourage people to bring their dog on a leash.”