Harris Nature Center reopens with limited capacity indoors, unlimited outdoors

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Harris Nature Center educates visitors with these signs that provide a historical timeline of geography in the state. Photo by Zewei Li

Michigan State University Professor Carol Sue Englert comes to the Harris Nature Center to walk her dog every day.

“I love nature, and my parents had always taken me to the nature centers since I was a child,” said Englert. 

Meridian residents like Englert can enjoy nature as usual during the pandemic, with a place close to nature.

Harris Nature Center reopened in January and offers virtual and in-person programs for the public. 

“Harris Nature Center is a place of refuge with everybody having to stay in their homes,” said Allison Goodman, a park naturalist who has worked at the center for 12 years. “This is a public place where they can safely visit outside and get a break from stress or the negative feeling. People will see what kind of things are in their backyard and what’s in this community area, what kind of plants, what kind of animals.”

Private guided nature program

Due to the COVID-19, Harris Nature Center limits visitor numbers and time to keep safe. The center provides private guided nature programs for people who want to learn more about nature, such as a new program called “Owls in Michigan.” Families or small groups with less than 10 people can schedule a private, one-hour guided walking tour with a naturalist. 

“From the public, we had a lot of people just really enjoy it,” said Kati Adams, Park and Land Preservation superintendent. 

Harris Nature Center educates visitors with these signs that provide a historical timeline of geography in the state. Photo by Zewei Li

Participants also learn about nature and build environmental protection awareness during the programs, which coincide with the center’s mission.

“Our goal here is to get people interested in caring for their natural communities that they live in, so we teach them all about the plants and the animals that live right here in Meridian Township in their backyard,” said Adams. “Also, our goal is to just kind of help people to recognize the importance of having that available to them. So, if they understand it, then hopefully they will want to protect it too.”

Opening during COVID-19

When schools closed due to COVID-19, the center had to cancel its activities, like summer camp, as most of the foot traffic came from K-12 students. 

“For us as naturalists, our job is to teach kids about nature,” said Adams. “It was pretty heartbreaking. Do not have them here.” 

Even though the Harris Nature Center missed many meaningful activities, like school field trips, it prepared virtual lessons and private programs for people to enjoy at home. Harris Nature Center also has 61 acres to go hiking, walking or bicycling.

It is hard for Harris Nature Center during the pandemic, but the center still tries its best to provide better programs and serve the community.

“Hopefully, we can start offering programs in March for groups of up to 25 and prepare summer camp,” said Adams. “We want to see students come out here in May.”