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 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.
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.
On the idyllic summer evening of July 30, nearly 70 people gathered indoors at the Eden Prairie Community Center to talk about how to save such days for future generations.
It was a community conversation on climate change, hosted by State. Rep. Laurie Pryor, DFL-Minnetonka, and both residents and elected officials turned out in force. Among them was Rod Fisher, a member of the local Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) chapter that had recently sent 20 members to Washington, D.C., to discuss bipartisan legislation to mitigate climate change; and Lia Harel, a recent Eden Prairie High School graduate and member of the climate activism group Minnesota Can’t Wait.
The mood was focused, and every speaker − including Eden Prairie Mayor Ron Case and City Council member PG Narayanan, State. Rep Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, DFL-Eden Prairie, and State. Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie − expressed the urgency they felt as activists and United Nations reports alike call for immediate and far-reaching changes to prevent dramatic environmental shifts.
“I’m very concerned about climate change issues,” said Elaine Strom, an Eden Prairie resident who attended the event. She has attended several of the most recent town halls held by Pryor, Kotyza-Witthuhn and Cwodzinski and was glad to have a more concentrated conversation on climate change, she told Eden Prairie News. Her husband, Jim Strom, hopes that such events can push action at a local level.
“It doesn’t seem to be happening nationally,” he noted.
The purpose of CCL’s June lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., was to change that, said CCL volunteer Scot Adams. Around 1,500 volunteers from across the country went to the nation’s capital and had 529 meetings with legislators, Fisher said, trying to get them on board with the bipartisan carbon fee and dividend bill that is CCL’s main mission. The bill, H.R. 763, would put a price on carbon pollution and redistribute those funds to everyone in the United States, reducing carbon pollution by economic means and pushing companies toward cleaner energy options.
At the Eden Prairie climate conversation, several energy professionals took the microphone to talk about the economic power of renewable energy and the misconception that it’s more expensive than carbon-based options. One noted that because Minnesota doesn’t have natural gas or coal resources of its own, it spends around $13 billion annually buying energy from other states − money that could be going into local pockets, if Minnesota developed a robust renewable energy sector.
Rachel Williams, a speaker from Willdan, a Minnesota energy consulting firm, pointed out that nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions come from constructing and operating buildings, and supporting energy efficient projects in that sector provides jobs to people who work on site or in the region.
“The benefits of these projects are inherently local,” she said.
That’s the argument that CCL is sending across the aisle in Washington, D.C.
“We’re trying to get past preaching to the choir,” Adams said. “We should try to work as an American team, or a world, human team.”
A roadblock to bipartisan support for the bill has been the perception that climate change is a left-leaning issue, Adams explained, and when conservative legislators put their weight behind the issue, “they get tied to all sorts of other issues that they don’t believe in,” he said. Adams sees himself as “left-leaning generally and very moderate in that,” and the urgency he feels about climate change comes from his trust in scientific reports and evidence.
The Eden Prairie delegation met with Minnesota Democrats U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips and U.S. Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, who is running for president. Fisher also met with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and said that a personal connection − his grandfather worked with Grassley in local Iowa politics early in the senator’s career − helped get the conversation flowing.
“The danger to our way of life is significant,” Adams said. “We both have kids, he has grandkids. For many people that’s the driving force.”
Certainly the Cambria Room at the July 30 event was most attentive during Harel’s turn with the microphone. The EPHS graduate spoke energetically about her efforts to educate young people about the risk to their future.
“When it’s your kid saying ‘I need you to save my future,’ that’s the issue parents jump on,” she told the audience, which was largely over the age of 50. “When they’re leading the conversation, that’s how you change the public will.”
Harel is leaving Eden Prairie, and Minnesota, behind as she heads to college at Claremont McKenna in southern California. But she’s not leaving her passion behind. She intends to major in the college’s interdisciplinary Environment, Economics and Politics field.
Pryor and State Rep. Patty Acomb, DFL-Minnetonka, expressed their growing urgency on the issue, especially as Minnesota begins to feel the effects of a changing climate. Pryor noted that many symbols of the state, including the loon, are under habitat threat and may not exist in Minnesota in a few decades. The National Audubon Society posted on its website that by 2080, the loon is predicted to lose 56% of its current summer range and 75% of its current winter range, making it “all but certain that Minnesota will lose its iconic loons in summer by the end of the century,” the site says.
“The things that make Minnesota, Minnesota are becoming rarer and rarer,” Acomb noted.
“If we can’t count on Duluth being cold, where is our state going?” Pryor asked.