I was devastated to learn that Warner Nature Center will close Dec. 31.
I’ve heard it said that the Manitou Fund (Warner’s funding agency) made a business choice to close Warner. If that’s the rationale, it’s a terrible one. Warner has an incredibly efficient business model. A small staff of 11 oversees a group of more than 100 active volunteers who provide service to over 17,000 children each year. That’s more than 1500 kids per staff member per year.
Each one of those kids gets individualized attention as they hike with an experienced guide in groups of eight to 12 kids. Warner is one of the few zero cost alternatives for schools. The nature center serves inner city metro kids who have never seen ‘real woods,’ and rural students who benefit from a nuanced understanding of their environment.
A lot has been said of the wonderful service that Warner staff provide to the more than 17,000 school kids that walk through their woods each year. There is no doubt that is the focus of the nature center and what it excels at. However, less has been said about the unintentional, yet vital, service staff provides to their volunteers.
Many of the more than 100 volunteers who come to Warner throughout the year, have been coming since the center’s inception. Many others, including me, have found their way here more recently through their love of the outdoors. People come back year after year to serve kids, but there is more to it. The way that Warner staff relates to their volunteers keeps people coming back for many years.
Warner staff has created a community around a shared love of nature, and the desire to share that love and pass it on to a new generation. Warner is more than 900 acres of wetland and woodland, it’s more than its unique bog, its 1500 plants, animals and fungi, it’s more than a 501(c)(3) corporation.
It is a community of people who care foremost about the environment and wish to build lasting relationships between people and the natural world. The reason it is greater than the sum of its parts, is the group of dedicated staff that have built a family over the course of 52 years. It’s a terrible shame that the people who built a wonderful community resource and indeed, a community, are being thrown out Dec. 31.
Cristina de Sobrino