Nearby Nature to Celebrate 20 Years In Eugene


Nate Gartrell, EDN

Nearby Nature, a local non-profit dedicated to teaching Lane County’s youth about the outdoors, will celebrate their 20th birthday this Saturday, from 1-4 p.m., at Eugene’s First United Methodist Church.

Volunteer Holly Hartmann leads a Nearby Nature Quest in Alton Baker Park. Photo courtesy of Beth Stein

The birthday party will feature a number of exhibits about Nearby Nature’s history, as well as nature in Oregon, Executive Director Beth Stein said. In keeping with the organization’s programs involving critter education, a dragonfly shaped cake will be presented as well.

“The party is basically a celebration of what we’ve been doing for the last 20 years,” she said. “It’s open to everybody; we’ll have activities for kids.”

There will also be a presentation to thank local community members and volunteers for their involvement.  Typically, volunteers donate about 6,000 hours of service per year, which has been crucial to the organization.

“Volunteers have been the heart and soul of our work,” Stein said. “We really couldn’t do it without them.”

Founded in 1992 as a small nature-based community group, Nearby Nature now provides educational services for thousands of local children each year. Most of its programs focus on some aspect of biology, nature appreciation, or sustainable organic farming, Stein said.

“Our audience is largely children and families, but we reach out to people of all ages,” she added. “We always are trying to help people live more lightly.”

In 1998, Nearby Nature found a new home: Alton Baker Park, where they are currently based. The move to the park allowed Nearby Nature to operate a variety of programs literally from its backyard, and the organization has flourished since then, Stein said.

“We bring about 3,000 kids per year, to do nature walks in the park,” Stein said. “To have tools stored in the park to do our restoration work really helps too.”

Nearby Nature's Kinder Critters -- Frannie Frog and Friends. Photo courtesy of Beth Stein

Stein pointed to several of the organization’s high points over the years: In November of last year, for instance, they won a $22,000 grant from the Staples Foundation for Learning. Nearby Nature also started working with local charter schools, which has further expanded their reach.

Additionally, with grant money from the Oregon Community Foundation, Nearby Nature started Learnscape, an organic garden and compost site converted from a grass lawn, in 2008. Environmentalists have been known to encourage lawn-to-garden conversions, since grass and vegetables use about the same amount of water, but the latter yields food crops.

“That’s become really critical to our work,” Stein said. “It’s such a cool environment to teach kids.”

Stein joined Nearby Nature in 1993 as a volunteer, and worked various jobs over the course of the organization’s history before becoming executive director. Her duties have included everything from filing paperwork, to dressing in a frog costume and reading books to young kids.

“I can’t believe that I get paid to do this job,” Stein said. “It’s never boring.”

Eugene’s First United Methodist Church is located at 1376 Olive St. in Eugene. The birthday party will be held on Saturday, March 17, from 1-4 p.m. and is free and open to the public. For more information click HERE.

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