Providing Innovative Nature Education Opportunities in Vermont State Parks
Natural Connections is an innovative public/private partnership designed to benefit Vermont State Parks and the people who visit them. Working together, Vermont Parks Forever, Vermont State Parks, and ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain will redesign and restore nature centers to enhance educational opportunities in six Vermont parks.
This dynamic partnership — the first of its kind in the nation — will tell the story of human relationships with Vermont’s natural resources and celebrate the complexity and beauty of our state’s landscape. By doing so, it will foster responsible stewardship, and help park visitors make beneficial life-long connections to the natural world.
Natural Connections would not be possible without the ongoing support of our many donors. Thank you to the following donors for their generosity:
- The Canaday Family Charitable Trust
- The Jan Blomstrann Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation
- The WaterWheel Foundation
- Lintilhac Foundation
- Lisa Steele
- Winthrop H. Smith, Jr. Charitable Foundation
- Darn Tough Vermont
- The Larsen Fund/Susan Z. Ritz
- Windham Foundation
- The MacLeay Foundation
- Cabot Creamery
- Pomerleau Real Estate
- Jan S. Eastman and John H. Marshall
- Tim Briglin and Laurel Mackin
- Jerry Greenfield and Elizabeth Skarie Foundation
- The Mimi Fishman Foundation
- The Lake Groton Association
- Northfield Savings Bank
- John Sharpless and Janet Rutkowski
- Washington Electric Cooperative Community Fund
- Many individual or anonymous donors
Statewide Nature Education Efforts
During the 2021 park season, Vermont Parks Forever provided nature interpretation funds used to purchase catamount teaching kits. Vermont State Park interpreters, in partnership with the Vermont History Museum, delivered hands-on training on the cultural and natural history of catamounts in Vermont. The catamount materials included replica skulls, replica furs, replica claws and replica scat. The hands-on elements captivated park visitors and launched tens of thousands of conversations around the cultural history of catamounts and the changes in Vermont’s landscape over time. Vermont State Parks’ partnership with the Vermont History Museum drove both park visitation and museum visitation.
Additionally, nature interpretation funds provided by Vermont Parks Forever were dedicated to purchasing licensure for Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Raven software. The interactive bioacoustics software is used for interactive displays in nature centers and in the field with nature interpreters. The Raven software will be used to create mobile interactive exhibits with sound visualization to share information about bird songs and other sounds of the forest. Future funding will be dedicated to bring this technology to several places around the state.
Nature Center Restorations: Current Projects
Groton Nature Center: Opening Summer 2022
Groton State Forest is home to seven Vermont State Parks. Working together with Vermont Parks Forever, park staff and ECHO are designing a restored nature center that features interactive learning opportunities highlighting Groton’s geology and its natural and cultural history.
Groton’s nature center will be the first center to be redesigned, with a completion date in the summer of 2022.
Button Bay State Park: Ferrisburgh, Vermont
Button Bay’s nature center will be the second nature center to be restored and will serve as a visitor portal to Button Bay and nearby parks that lack facilities of their own. The center will feature interactive displays and communication tools that allow visitors to explore clear, thematically organized information on topics including park resources, geography, plant and animal life, and water systems.
Future Natural Connections Projects
Lake St. Catherine State Park in Poultney
Lake Carmi State Park in Enosburg Falls
Burton Island State Park in St. Albans
Grand Isle State Park in Grand Isle
ECHO will also celebrate this partnership by installing a Natural Connections exhibit in their science center in Burlington.