VICTORIA — The Lowry Nature Center is celebrating a half-century of widening nature’s door to Twin Cities residents.
When the center opened in 1969, it was the first public nature center in the area. It gave the somewhat rare opportunity of experiencing an outdoor classroom to those who traveled from across the region and state.
Parents who went to the center when they were children are now bringing their own little ones to the center. Teachers who were once students visiting the center now organize field trips for their own students.
The Lowry Nature Center estimates some 1.5 million people have connected with the center since it opened, said Outdoor Education Supervisor Allison Neaton.
“For every story we hear, there are so many more that we don’t hear,” Neaton said. “It means a lot to us when we hear that it made a difference — that the experience made someone have an appreciation for the world around them in a different way and encouraged them to share that with somebody else.”
The road to Lowry cuts through the Carver Park Reserve. After following Highway 7 to Victoria Drive, a turn onto Nature Center Drive curls around lush prairie, trees and glimmering water to arrive at the Lowry Nature Center.
Architect Richard Vosejpka designed the Lowry Nature Center’s brown building. Lowry favored the outdoor classroom for learning, though, which he said was the land surrounding the facility sitting at the base of Acorn Trail, and above Crosby Lake.
In the August heat, children from summer camps build outdoor forts in the center’s backyard. Adults meander the trails on bikes, and bees mind the flowering prairie plants that fringe the parking lot. It likely isn’t too different from what the park looked like 50 years ago.
THE NATURE CENTER FORMS
The Lowry Nature Center was created from the imagination of its namesake, Goodrich Lowry.
In 1967, Lowry invested his retirement time in several interests: conservation, birding and travel among them. He visited the Aullwood Nature Center and Farm near Dayton, Ohio, that year.
The stay inspired another way to spend his retirement.
Lowry came back from Ohio and enacted a plan for an outdoor education facility in the Carver Park Reserve that could offer schoolchildren the chance to unfurl their love for the outdoors, and learn more about conservation along the way.
“He was really focused on trying to make sure that what he was doing was creating a place where students could come and learn and build a connection with the land,” Neaton said.
In 1967, Lowry said, “These children will be our voters of tomorrow, setting the conservation policies of this state and nation."
A nonprofit called the Metropolitan Nature Centers was formed to create the Carver Park Nature Center. It spent two years raising $500,000 to build the center and fund two years worth of operating costs.
The Lowry Nature Center opened in the spring of 1969. Goodrich Lowry called its formal event on June 28 and 29 a “housewarming.”
The nature center’s operations were handed to Hennepin County Park Reserve District in 1971. The district was later renamed Three Rivers Park District, and the Carver Park Nature Center was also renamed to be the Lowry Nature Center.
CONNECTION IN THE MODERN WORLD
Nowadays, the center faces a new issue. A survey from the American Public Media Research Lab shows one in six American adults never spend free time in nature. Survey participants cited work, or having to work a lot, as the most common reason they couldn’t step outdoors.
“Whether it’s because of technology or because of the busy-ness of our lives, or just because of so many more choices for our free time,” Neaton said, “people are spending less and less time outside.”
She added reconnecting with the outdoors is more accessible than people may think it is.
“Nature is not something separate (from us),” Neaton added. “There is not nature over here in a corner while you’re in a separate corner.”
Whether it’s helping visitors navigate trail maps, educating children in an unconventional classroom, or being open and free 363 days a year, the nature center is determined to keep getting people outside.