Our Summer Visit to the Thurston Nature Center

Bringing along markers, pencils, crayons, and paper to document their time, Lola and Lucy spend a blissful afternoon at the Thurston Nature Center. / image: Ben Atchison

Can you think of a better way to enjoy a balmy mid-summer afternoon? My dear friend and colleague Ben Atchison recently brought his granddaughters Lola (age 10) and Lucy (age 8) Valentin to the Thurston Nature Center in Ann Arbor, MI. Lush and inviting, the Nature Center is a favorite destination for Papa and the girls. Lola and Lucy are delighted to share their photo journal with you.
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director

For those familiar with Ann Arbor, Michigan, the nearly 24-acre Thurston Nature Center is next door to both the Thurston Elementary and Clague Middle Schools. Lola, who is in fifth grade and Lucy, who is in third grade, attend Thurston Elementary School, which makes the Nature Center even that much more special to them.

In 1968, the Nature Center was designated a Conservation Education Reserve by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The space is jointly owned by the Ann Arbor Public Schools and Orchard Hills Athletic Club. Fifty years “young,” the Nature Center is used by the Ann Arbor Schools Environmental Education Program and the greater Ann Arbor community. It is maintained and enhanced by the teachers and students and their families at Thurston Elementary and Clague Middle Schools, with help from devoted neighborhood volunteers. This gracious outdoor oasis is enjoyed by young and old alike.

The space hosts five ecosystems; trails; an 8.4-acre pond and a vernal pond that fish, turtles, and muskrats call home; native plants that attract butterflies and birds; and raccoons and skunks. The Center also contains a hickory-oak woodlot, a rain garden, and vine trellis. In 2015 and 2016, students from the elementary school and community volunteers worked to install a native prairie. Many of the improvement projects that occur at the Center help to support the elementary school’s Green STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) program while simultaneously improving the biodiversity of the area. The Thurston Nature Center is a popular destination for Ann Arbor school field trips and outdoor experiential education. Be sure to add The Thurston Nature Center to your agenda should your travels take you to Ann Arbor!

Gazing at the shallow pond is an idyllic place to experience, up close, a diversity of plant and wildlife. / image: Ben Atchison
A majestic oak tree provides shade canopy and a lookout point onto the pond. It serves as a point of reference for the girls’ artwork. / image: Ben Atchison

And now, Lola and Lucy would like to share with you their interpretation of the Thurston Nature Center:

In preparation for drawing, Lola and Lucy are taking in the expanse. Each have their own interpretation of the near and far views of nature. / image: Ben Atchison
Using a piece of oak tree bark to augment her drawing, Lola creates 3D art. For Lola, being near the pond is quiet and peaceful. It is an ideal place for reading and simply being. / image: Ben Atchison
Standing beneath the shade of the oak tree, Lola shares her creative masterpiece. / image: Ben Atchison
After a period of observation and contemplation, Lucy starts to draw and share her interpretation of what she is seeing and feeling. / image: Ben Atchison
Lucy finds that being at the Thurston Nature Center is peaceful and a place of beauty, where she can observe the many birds that grace the pond. / image: Ben Atchison
A picture that tells it all; the Center IS a bio-diverse habitat. / image: Ben Atchison
Lucy proudly displays her beautiful pictorial representation of the Thurston Nature Center. / image: Ben Atchison
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