Center offers big welcome for those who want to learn

Often things that seem small have a ripple effect that can change the direction of a life or an organization. The opening of Durango Nature Studies’ new Welcome Building is that pebble for our organization, and in many ways for our community.

For years our magical Nature Center, nestled in the valley of the Florida River in Bondad, has served as a learning laboratory for school groups, workshops and hordes of summer campers. However, when people called to ask us our hours for the public, we had to answer that it was not available for that purpose. Before embarking on our ethnobotany trail down to the bridge that crosses the river and takes one to the quiet and wildness of the Nature Center, one had to pull into a flat, hot parking area that masked the beauty of what was below. We had no way to greet people who were dropping in for the day.

For many years we have been trying to change this, but thanks to a generous grant from BP and matching donations from individuals and businesses, this dream has become a reality.

Beginning in the fall, we started construction on our new Welcome Building at the top of the Nature Center. We are also changing the name of the Nature Center to Durango Nature Studies’ Learning Center. It seems fitting because Durango Nature Studies is more than the property, but the land provides a place for us to “practice what we preach” in the classrooms and through events. It is a place for visitors to “learn” about the natural world.

Although small, this building is charming and useful. It will have hands-on activities, a revolving display of art from local nature photographers and information to prepare visitors for a day at our Learning Center.

We recently held a docent training program and were overwhelmed by the number of people who were anxious to spend their time overseeing the center on open days. It is wonderful to have a volunteer program other than our extensive naturalist training as a way to involve more people in the community.

Visitors to our Learning Center can walk a new self-guided interpretive trail or just roam our extensive trail system on their own. Folks can have picnics and play in the river along designated beaches. For kids who want to learn a bit more, we have a junior naturalist booklet that will allow them to earn a badge and have their picture taken for our “wall of fame.” Kids who come for school trips or for the summer can now bring their parents to the site to see their favorite special places.

In addition, we hope that our Learning Center will open up more activities for tourists visiting our community. Every time I visit a new area, I look to see if there is a local nature center. It’s a great way to get outside with kids and learn something about a new environment. We also hope to promote other places to visit in town, such as the Durango Discovery Museum, the Southern Ute Cultural Center, For the Birds and the state Parks and Wildlife museum. If we all work together, we’ve got so many ways to help visitors learn about the natural world while vacationing in Durango.

Our ribbon-cutting ceremony will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday. We will have food and drinks from Simply Sustainable Catering and a chance to see the building and walk the interpretive trail. All are welcome.

Then, starting May 19, Durango Nature Studies’ Learning Center will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday through October. Members and kids younger than 12 are admitted free; others are $5. Visit our website at to get directions. We can’t wait to share this hidden gem with the whole community. or 382-9244. Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies.