Ontario’s Grand River Conservation Authority brings more interactive education ‘on stream’

How a facelift to the Laurel Creek Nature Centre will enhance watershed knowledge

The Grand River watershed is “deeply entrenched” in southern Ontario, touching some of the province’s biggest communities with no shortage of creeks, lakes and rivers.

The Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA), based in Cambridge, ensures there’s no shortage of education on the waterways, either.

“Kids learn by doing,” says Sara Wilbur, executive director of the Grand River Conservation Foundation (GRCF), which is the GRCA’s partner charity. “We have about 50,000 kids participate in our programs every year to learn how to navigate being outside.”

Among the GRCF’s dozens of initiatives is an upgrade to Laurel Creek Nature Centre, one of the larger centres that sees 15,000 come through its doors annually.

Some of the creatures inside Laurel Creek are residents and not visitors, however. Cornelius the corn snake and Snappy the turtle are quite popular among the guests to the centre.

“Part of our upgrade to Laurel Creek is making the nature centre more dynamic in what materials we use to engage students,” says Wilbur. “We know there is more we can do with our tanks and terrariums such as adding interactive signage and improving the display spaces.”

Laurel Creek houses two classrooms, an outdoor deck and a large gathering space dubbed the discovery room.

“Everyone looks forward to coming to Laurel Creek Nature Centre because they know they will do something cool and learn something fun.”

This spring, Enbridge gave $5,000 to GRCF to assist in the upgrade of Laurel Creek Nature Centre. As part of our commitment to the communities we operate in and around, Enbridge has given to the GRCF since 2016 to fund trails, outdoor education and habitat restoration as well as the development of a segment of the Brantford to Hamilton Rail Trail.

First on the list of upgrades to Laurel Creek will be accessibility, says Wilbur.

“We want all kids to be able to take part in the programs,” she says. “After that we will get to work on upgraded flooring, planting some trees outside and replacing doors and windows.”

And what’s the biggest barrier to the upgrades? The constant foot traffic in and out of the building. Wilbur estimates the project will begin this year and reach completion in 2020.

“It’s a good problem, but we’re having to work around schedules so we don’t interfere with the programs that are ongoing,” says Wilbur.

Among other projects for GRCF include the construction of a nature centre in Guelph, which will welcome an average of 200,000 youth per year and be free of charge for visitors.

In the meantime, Wilbur says the ongoing focus on a nearby 100-acre tree nursery, creating community trails and receiving thank-you letters from classrooms makes her job rewarding.

“It gives me great purpose to be able to say the reason why we do this is because we want kids to grow up knowing their environment and being healthy.”

(TOP PHOTO: A young visitor at the Laurel Creek Nature Centre examines the insect life captured by her net in a nearby watershed. Photo courtesy, Grand River Conservation Authority.)