CEDAR RAPIDS — The Indian Creek Nature Center’s first public program was a Groundhog Day walk led by then-director Curt Abdouch.
The center, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, will commemorate that first program with another Groundhog Day event in 2014.
Details are sketchy, but if it’s anything like the programming the center has provided throughout the past four decades, it’s fair to assume it will cover the three E’s often associated with Indian Creek Nature Center: educational, entertaining and ecological.
The nature center was founded after B.B. Stamats and Jean O’Donnell partnered to bring an environmental education center to Cedar Rapids. The pair recruited a steering committee of about 40 community members to make their vision reality.
“It’s just a real incredible legacy,” says B.B.’s son Bill Stamats of Cedar Rapids. “Two women who, at the time were living in a male-dominated world, had this idea of bringing environmental education to Cedar Rapids and pushed to make it happen. They had a lot of moxie, I would say.”
They also had strong belief in engaging and educating the community of its natural world, an idea that led to the creation of the state’s first nature center — and the only one not operated by county conservation boards. Unlike the state’s other 50 nature centers, Indian Creek isn’t funded by state and local governments.
“Indian Creek’s money comes from memberships, endowment earnings, fees, contributions and grants,” current director Rich Patterson says.
The center leases the main building and around 140 acres of land from the city.
“We do the management at no cost to the city and the city gets a nature center without dipping into property tax funds,” Patterson says.
The result of the partnership is community access to miles of trails for walking, hiking and biking.
At least 38,000 people visited the center in 2012. This number, doesn’t include those who use the land informally, such as trail walkers, bird watchers and joggers.
“We know there are hundreds of them but we don’t know exactly how many,” Patterson says.
And that’s OK with the center’s staff.
“There’s so much people can just come and do here,” Aiels says. “That’s one area where were underused.”
“It may be our most important product here: solitude,” Patterson says. “You can come, turn off your phone and just sit in the woods for five minutes or an hour. It recharges you.”
The formal programming — from Polliwog Preschool for the youngest visitors to organized nature walks for seniors — all tie into the center’s mission of sustainable living and appreciating nature.
“We have an education committee and the members on it that make suggestions for programs,” says Jan Aiels, the center’s education facilitator. “People who come to programs make suggestions and we have a very creative staff with a variety of interests.”
In 2012, the center played host to 389 groups such as Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, schools and students. It also held 139 public programs that ranged from ate nigh nature hikes to discussions to the paleo diet.
“Many of the things that we’ve done and piloted at the center have become mainstream,” Patterson adds.
For example, the center held its first urban chicken program four years ago. At that time, raising chickens in city limits was illegal, but enough people had expressed interest that the center decided to hold an informational program.
Many of the people who attended that first program — including current Indian Creek Nature Center Board President Rebecca Mumaw — helped change city laws to allow for urban chickens.
That class and the resulting change in city law is also an example of one of the center’s missions for the future.
“We want to connect the next generation with the land,” Mumaw says. “Right now, people are three generations removed from the land.”
The Indian Creek Nature Center has adopted the theme “Reconnect – Rediscover – Reinvest” for its 40th celebration. The center will be offering numerous ways to participate in the celebration by reconnecting with nature, rediscovering the nature center, and reinvesting in its future.
One way to participate is to download a 40 for 40 Passport. Each season, nature center staff will give a dozen or more suggestions of things to do at the center free of charge. Pick 10 activities, complete them and bring your “passport” to the front desk in the barn to be stamped and receive a prize. Complete 40 activities and your name will be entered into a drawing for a grand prize.
This year also is the 30th anniversary of the Maple Syrup Festival, which is held annually the first weekend of March. Visit the center this weekend to practice tapping a tree, collect sap for syrup making and watch sap boil into sweet maple syrup. Visitors will follow the entire process from tree to table, dining on pancakes.
The festival begins at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, with festivities wrapping up at 12:30 p.m. both days.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for children ages 3 through 12 if purchased in advance. Tickets available at the door are $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 3 through 12. Anyone celebrating their 30th birthday or their 30th anniversary in 2013 will receive free admission to the festival.
Advance tickets may be purchased on the Indian Creek Nature Center’s website at www.indiancreeknaturecenter.org