Harris Nature Center puts focus on educating the community

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The sound of leaves crunching under your feet, the Red Cedar River flowing right beside you and birds chirping: The sounds and sights of nature are an experience, the Harris Nature Center staff is hoping all visitors can have.

“Basically the biggest thing is, that we like people to understand that a nature center is not just the building it’s like the entire park is the nature center that’s where you’re going to have your experience,” said Kit Rich, coordinator of the nature center.  “We want you to come into the building say hello and see what we have in here, but then get outside, kind of create your own experiences.”

The center is tucked away in the woods lining Van Atta Road and is just off the bank of the Red Cedar. First opening its doors in 1997, the center has proclaimed itself as a place for recreation and education.

“The nature center means a lot to us,” said Liza Potts, an associate professor at Michigan State who frequents the park. “Knowing that there is a space for us to learn and explore right here is fantastic.”

The Beaver Lodge, an small playground at the center for kids to play. Photo by Julian Mitchell

The park is open from dawn to dusk and everyone is welcome. Visitors can do what they want, walk, jog and even ride bikes. It’s all about exploring on your own, said Rich.

While exploring on your own is encouraged, the center also offers various programs to educate and connect with the community.

According to Rich, the center welcomes school groups and works in tandem with the teachers to create programs that coordinate with their curriculum. Harris also hosts programs for community members of all ages.

“Then we also have general public programs, so they might be for, we have a toddler program that goes on for eight weeks, we have single programs like a campfire, or a nature walk something like that, just a huge variety of programming.”

Working with schools is a big part of what Harris Nature Center does, it put a lot of importance on teaching about the environment and local ecosystem.

A classroom area inside the center, used for school visits and other programs. Photo by Julian Mitchell

“I think when the school groups come out here it’s a pretty big deal to us because a lot of families are so busy or don’t have the ability to just take time on the weekends and take kids to the woods or to the lake or whatever,” said Kati Adams, a senior park naturalist. “This exposure to nature is really important for our young generation because they’re the ones we’re gonna rely on to protect it later and so our job is to sort of instill this love of nature so that they want it to be around, they want to protect it and I think that’s a huge part of our responsibility here.”

The Harris Nature Center is located at 3998 Van Atta Road. and is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday’s. The park is open  visitors from dawn till dusk.


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