2018-04-22 / Insight

Earth Day celebrated at Seven Ponds

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


Daryl Bernard, executive director of the Seven Ponds Nature Center, said the 51-year-old facility offers children and adults alike unique opportunities to learn about the natural world. 
Photo by Phil Foley Daryl Bernard, executive director of the Seven Ponds Nature Center, said the 51-year-old facility offers children and adults alike unique opportunities to learn about the natural world. Photo by Phil Foley DRYDEN TWP. — Every day is Earth Day at Seven Ponds Nature Center, Lapeer County’s environmental education center and sanctuary.

Seven Ponds, which opened its doors for the first time in March 1967, actually predates Earth Day which was celebrated for the first time April 22, 1970.

“A lot of nature centers began about the same time,” said Daryl Bernard, Seven Pond’s executive director. Rachel Caron’s “Silent Spring,” credited with launching the environmental movement, was published in 1962. Two years after Seven Ponds opened Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire, drawing national attention to the problem of chemical waste disposal.


Seven Ponds Nature Center Executive Director Daryl Bernard chats with naturalist Katie McKiernan as she cleans one of the center’s aquariums. The center, located on Crawford Road in Dryden Township, has a staff of nine and hundreds of volunteers. 
Photo by Phil Foley Seven Ponds Nature Center Executive Director Daryl Bernard chats with naturalist Katie McKiernan as she cleans one of the center’s aquariums. The center, located on Crawford Road in Dryden Township, has a staff of nine and hundreds of volunteers. Photo by Phil Foley It was a tumultuous time and a growing number of people were becoming aware of the importance of environmental stewardship. Since the Michigan Audubon made its first acquisition, Seven Ponds has grown to cover 500 acres and more than 500,000 people, including 7,000 school children last year alone, have participated in programs on the sprawling property.

“Earth Day,” said Bernard, “is the kind of event that focuses people on the importance of being good stewards of the earth during that time, but obviously at a nature center that kind of thinking is on our mind every day of the year.”

But he said, the annual event gives the center and its staff the opportunity to do outreach work. Earlier this week a Seven Ponds’ naturalist was at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles headquarters in Auburn Hills for an Earth Day event and this weekend the center has a team at a three-day Earth Day event in Rochester as well as volunteers planting trees at Tibbits Nature Sanctuary in Marathon Township.

“Earth Day is the kind of day that the general public is maybe drawn to and made more aware, but as far as nature center staffs, the naturalists and the rest of the staff here, that’s something we think about every day,” Bernard said.

This spring along, Seven Ponds is offering more than two dozen programs, both at the center and at schools across southeast Michigan.

He said the educational programs Seven Ponds puts on annually, especially the ones that reach students in Lapeer, Genesee, Oakland and Macomb counties are critically important. Those students, he said, are “our next generation of earth stewards.”

Bernard said the staff at Seven Ponds tries to promote good environmental stewardship by example. “We try to be good stewards and be responsible stewards and do the things as an example to the community such as controlling invasive species and providing appropriate habitat for native species.”

Funding, said Bernard, is the center’s biggest challenge. With a staff of nine and an annual budget of just number $400,000 keeping the doors open is a constant struggle. “As a 501(c)(3) non-profit,” he said, “we don’t tap into any taxpayer dollars. A lot of people are surprised by that. They think somehow we receive money from federal, state or local government agencies and we don’t receive a dime.”

The center funds itself through donations from the public and service clubs, grants, service fees, fund raisers and a small endowment fund.

“Every year it’s tight figuring out how we’re going to pay for all the things we want to do,” Bernard said. “Nobody’s is getting wealthy working at a non-profit nature center. But people that work here truly believe in what we’re doing and our mission and in some cases is referred to as a calling. I thoroughly love what they do and I don’t think anybody who decides going to college that they want to be a naturalist are under the illusion that they going to get wealthy doing that, but they understand it’s an important job.”

Volunteers, Bernard said, play an enormous role in the success of Seven Ponds. “There’s no way that a staff of nine could get done everything that gets done here in any given year,” he said. “So this squad of volunteers that come in are critical and key in helping us do the things we want to do and fulfill our mission.”

In addition to a large volunteer cadre, Seven Ponds has clubs that focus on astronomy, birding, herbs, bee keeping and photography.

“I think the biggest environmental challenge we face as a whole,” Bernard said, “is getting our next generation of kids outdoors. With the advent of increased technology, fewer kids are outdoors, more kids are indoors. More kids are urban and suburban than ever before. Kids are online all day. They’re looking at their tablets, they’re not looking at frogs in the creek. They’re watching YouTube videos instead of watching birds or deer or whatever. Fewer kids are hunting or fishing and getting exposed to the outdoors that way at an early age. So when kids don’t form a bond with the outdoors at an early age it’s less likely they ever will. And people find to fight to defend what they’re connected to.”

That, he said, is why the half-century mission of Seven Ponds is so important and will only become more important in the years ahead of us.

“If our kids don’t become in some way connected to nature,” Bernard said, “then they won’t become advocates for nature, they won’t be stewards.”

Seven Ponds’ location is a benefit and a challenge at the same time. “Being as far out as we are,” Bernard said, “as rural as we are, away from any city center is an advantage because we have a wonderful grounds. We have a beautiful habitat. It feels every remote and has an ‘up north’ feel to it, but at the same time people have to commit to taking a bit of a drive to get out here, and we hope they do.”

For more information about Seven Ponds Nature Center and its wide array of programs and opportunities, visit www.sevenponds.org.

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