I love the start of a new year. I’m not one to make the typical resolutions, but I relish the hope and renewal ushered forth each January. In addition, new years mark milestones. In this case, 2018 marks an important milestone in the history of Durango Nature Studies. For it was 20 years ago – in 1998 – that DNS founders Ann Rilling and Janet Kenna, along with support from many others in the community, secured the 140-acre site at the southern base of Bondad Hill that became the Durango Nature Center.
If you went to public school here or have had children who have gone to school here within the last 20 years, chances are you have experienced the Nature Center. It functions as our living laboratory for environmental education programs, beginning with kindergartners. Each year, about 5,000 students have a chance to conduct science experiments and walk the trails throughout the Nature Center, getting a firsthand glimpse of the flora and fauna of this arid ecosystem.
Additionally, from May through October, the Nature Center hosts many of our Saturday workshops where anyone can come and learn more about this place we call home. It also serves as the setting for our elementary school summer camps from June through mid-August.
By design, the Nature Center remains primitive. While we added a small welcome center in 2012 and we have a pavilion in the main part of the Nature Center to provide some shelter for our program participants, the site does not use electricity. While the Florida River traverses the parcel, there is no potable water on site. It is, in the words of my teenage daughter, “rustic.”
It is also magical. I have yet to encounter a guest who has not been surprised by the specialness of the Nature Center. As they leave their vehicles and get their first glimpse of the small riparian valley, I often hear guests murmur, “I had no idea this existed here.”
When we look – and truly see – what lives at the Nature Center, we realize the vastness of our natural world. Even on its 140 acres, the Nature Center provides a home for everything from prickly pear cacti to cottonwoods to old, knotty junipers, and even a couple tenacious ponderosa pines. There are several areas of cryptobiotic soil crusts.
As for insects, the Nature Center is home to a myriad of insects, including some of my favorites – praying mantises, Monarch butterflies and tarantulas. Ravens rule the roost and serve as guards of the Nature Center, but if you’re patient, you’ll also see a variety of waterfowl and songbirds.
As for mammals, the Nature Center serves as home or pass-through for everything from river otters and marmots to mountain lions, foxes and bears. Even if you don’t see them directly, you’ll frequently see signs of them.
While the Nature Center is closed to the public until May, my hope in this 20th year of the Nature Center is that many of you who have never visited this special place will take time to do so this year, celebrating this natural gem in our region. For those of you who have visited the Nature Center, visit again and take a look at how things may have changed since your last visit.
If you have a story about your experience of the Nature Center, please share it with us!