Nature Centre to open with new program
Local youngsters have flocked to centre for 15 years
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Saturday, Jun 23, 2012 06:00 am
St. Albert’s summer nature centre is back this July for what is likely the 15th year in a row.
Summer nature centre co-ordinator Sam Morris announced this week that she would be opening up the Big Lake Environment Support Society’s (BLESS) Summer Nature Centre on July 2. The centre has offered free nature-based fun for city residents for about 15 years.
The Sturgeon Composite grad says that in addition to the usual birds and bugs, she’ll be bringing two new nature courses to the centre this summer.
“Seeing the kids learn about nature is going to be fantastic,” she said.
Morris, a St. Albert resident and fourth-year conservation biology student at the University of Alberta, says she’s been interested in wildlife and field biology ever since she was a kid.
“I’ve always wanted to be that girl [giving the nature tours] when I was a kid, and now I get to be that girl.”
Morris, who previously worked at the Edmonton Valley Zoo and John Janzen Nature Centre, beat out 14 applicants to get the job, said BLESS president Pat Collins.
“She’s got a lot of experience working with kids and nature,” he said, and was by far the best candidate.
New this year will be a week dedicated to the seasons, Morris said, with specific focus on temperature and colour changes.
“Greater biodiversity means a healthier ecosystem,” she added, so she’s also doing a unit on backyard biodiversity – the bugs, beasts and blossoms of our backyards.
Visitors will get to make deer puppets and pinecone birdfeeders, Morris said, as well as learn about recycling, water, crayfish, birds and trees.
15 years, or so
Gazette records and BLESS veterans suggest that the summer nature centre got its start in about 1997, but none of the BLESS members contacted could recall the exact date.
BLESS veterans credit birder Dan Stoker with coming up with the centre.
“We felt it was important for people in St. Albert to learn about Big Lake,” he recalled, “because people knew nothing about it.”
BLESS hired Chantel Isaak to run a Summer Fun at Big Lake program Sundays during July and August of 1997, according to the Gazette’s archives, housing it at the group’s shelter east of what is now Ray Gibbon Drive.
The shelter was exposed and hard to reach, Stoker said, so in about 1999 BLESS worked out a deal with the city to move into the old RCMP cabin by St. Albert Trail.
“That building was certainly the perfect location,” he said.
Though it’s pretty far from Big Lake, it’s still next to the Sturgeon.
“It’s never had air-conditioning, so it’s always been a bit of a torture chamber at times,” he said.
Thousands of kids would visit the centre over the next decade, learning about trees, birds, bugs and fish. The centre itself has accumulated a strange menagerie of skulls, skins, bones and other artifacts, including a blue heron costume and, at one point, a pair of 15-centimetre-long crayfish.
Stoker recalls arriving at the centre one morning to find that one of the crayfish had escaped the fish-tank.
“It was somewhere loose in the cabin.”
They found the desiccated corpse of the leviathan eventually.
The whole point of the centre is to get people out to enjoy what nature provides them, Stoker said.
“We live in the world, and the world is exciting. We don’t have to be afraid of it.”
It’s more important than ever to teach kids about nature, Stoker said.
“The more time kids spend in front of the TV and computer and not in touch with nature … the worse off we’ll be in the future,” he said.
The centre is open weekdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Call Morris at 780-999-2895 for details.