Fundraising continues for nature center

TRAVERSE CITY – The new Oleson Pavilion, an outdoor classroom at the Grand Traverse Natural Education Reserve, is ready for visitors.

Thanks to hours of donated time and in-kind services from the business community, the pavilion is complete and marks the first major step toward the Grand Traverse Conservation District's plan to create the Boardman River Nature Center at the reserve's Sabin Pond Trailhead on Cass Road.

The reserve spans 600 acres of parkland with seven miles of trails winding through wetlands, woods, and along the Boardman River. Through its Discovery Nature Hikes program, the conservation group welcomes over 2,500 students every year. On the whole, the conservation district works to support natural resource education and stewardship, and to reconnect people with the natural world.

The outdoor classroom will allow students to bring back specimens from their hike and study them with microscopes and other tools for investigation, explained Wally Chappel, parkland project director.

The Boardman River Nature Center will house the conservation district's offices as well as an exhibit gallery, classroom, laboratory, and community room. The 7,000 square-foot facility together with the pavilion will be the focal point of the nature reserve, according to district officials.

Among the local professionals donating their services to the project are Fred Campbell of JML Design (architectural work) and Joe Elliott of Gourdie-Fraser (site work). In addition, the Remodelors Council of the local Home Builders' Association hosted a work bee to frame the pavilion last month.

The pavilion was constructed using local materials where possible, including base supports made of fieldstone from executive director Lew Coulter's farm, and ash wood from trees impacted by the Emerald Ash Borer.

According to development coordinator Rebecca Teahen, the conservation district has gifts totaling $65,000 in in-kind goods and services toward a total of $607,000 (cash and in-kind donations) committed to the overall nature center campaign. The group's fundraising goal for the entire construction project is $1 million.

The conservation district plans to break ground on the nature center next spring, with a completion date of spring 2008.