You may have heard of Fenner Nature Center, located on the corner of Mount Hope Avenue and Aurelius Road, but you probably have not heard of The Fenner Conservancy, the non-profit that saved the nature center from being closed after city budget cuts in 2009.
The newly named Fenner Conservancy took over management of the nature center in 2009 when former director Clara Bratton retired, and the city had no money in its budget to replace her. Now, the non-profit has an agreement with the city; Lansing takes care of the building maintenance and pays for electricity, and the Conservancy funds all the programming.
Fenner’s Executive Director Jason Meyer said one of the biggest challenges of the transition has been making residents aware that the center is no longer funded and operated by the city.
“When I’m out there trying to raise money to support us, everybody says, ‘Why should I give money to the government?’ That’s not our story anymore. When people are donating money, they’re donating money to the non-profit,” he said.
In order to help residents understand the separation of the center from the state, the non-profit decided to re-brand. The Conservancy was formerly the Friends of Fenner group.
“We’re way more than a friends group now,” Meyer said. “Now that we’re fundraising and now that we’re developing policy and all this other stuff, it’s a huge leap for us. So, we’re trying to become more serious, or more credible, if you will.”
Open year-round from 8 a.m. to dusk, the nature center has more than 130 acres of forests, fields and wetland habitats. Close to 20,000 visitors came in 2010 to enjoy the four miles of hiking trails, bird watching, nature exhibits, numerous wildlife and school programs.
Each year the center hosts a Maple Syrup Festival in March and an Apple Butter Festival in October. The Conservancy hopes to add some fundraising to these festivals, as well as obtain grants, corporate sponsorships and more memberships to keep the nature center alive.
The Conservancy is also busy creating some joint programming with Impression 5 Science Center and Potter Park Zoo, which will begin in mid-April.
“For all of us, it’s great because we’re exposing more people to all our facilities,” Meyer said. “Developing these partnerships is good for the community … we’re keeping the dollars local, and that’s important to all of us.”
The nature center is also planning for its summer camps and continues to spread the word about its existence. Meyer said that despite the nature center being a part of Lansing for more than 50 years, he still speaks to lifelong residents who have never heard of it.
“This is an incredible place right here in our backyards,” he said. “For us, getting folks to know about Fenner is a huge deal. The more people that are out here, we’re meeting our mission of educating about nature. We’re exposing kids to something they’re not getting a lot of anymore.”
The center is always looking for volunteers to help with anything including working in the gift shop, staffing festivals, office assistance, creating artwork for displays and removing invasive species from the land.
To learn more about the nature center or how to donate, visit www.mynaturecenter.org or call 517-483-4224.
Tags: Fenner Conservacny, fenner nature center, non-profit profile