Thursday, October 3, 2013

Our Town Elkhart: Nature!

Not too long ago, I helped out with a documentary by WNIT called Our Town: Elkhart. WNIT put out a call to videographers to help see Elkhart through different perspectives. I signed up for a slot on NATURE! Lucky me, I got to traipse around all the beautiful spots in Elkhart. Here are a few of the notes as I prepared for my interview, reflecting on why I chose nature as my topic. The show was aired August 18th.

Why Nature? 
There is little digital imprint of connecting with nature in Elkhart. I moved back to the area after a 30 year hiatus and found myself with 4 boys and a love for nature. Looking for good activities,  I repeatedly said, "There should be a website that . . . " Additionally, there is a nature preserve near my house. I could only find one paragraph about it. Nearby neighbors didn’t even know it was there. But we love going there and I wanted to share what we've learned with others. I also started volunteering more at Woodlawn Nature Center. As I talk to others and do outreach programs, I find people haven’t known it existed or hadn’t been to it since they were children. So, I started a local nature blog to help people know about these great resources. It has been fun meeting people out in nature. Nature is my passion and I hope to connect more with nature.

Benefits of Nature
Less stress
Academic benefits
Attention to detail
Exercise, health, recreation
We NEED nature! Children are connected to electronics—how do we help them connect more with nature?

Where is nature?
Nature is everywhere in Elkhart. It is in our backyards and right inside our homes in aquariums and house plants. It is part of our gardens and community gardens at Sterling Park. It is in Downtown Elkhart at the Midwest Museum of Art. After a tour, my 4-year-old “found” nature in the planter box outside. He was quite content playing with the sweet gum balls while I chatted with a friend. Nature is on a Mural on the Elkhart Chamber of Commerce—I am so impressed by water and the green spaces of the city. Nature is in Watershed Activities, connecting with water throughout the area. It is at the INOVA building, with so many people fishing downtown and showing my boys their fish.

Nature can also be at schools, libraries, cracks in the sidewalk, and businesses. Many do a great job with this! It is in natural spaces in the city and our waterways.

My Connections to Nature in Elkhart:
As a child, I lived down by the YMCA. As siblings, we explored the area, walking downtown, going over to Island Park, and playing in the empty lot next to the house. Many children are not allowed that same freedom today, yet these early experiences helped shape my connection to nature. I moved away for thirty years and returned. While I loved new places and living overseas, I missed all the trees. In the greater Elkhart area, I can look in any direction and see 100 trees at once.

Natural Spaces in Elkhart:
Cobus Creek County Park—We like the sensory garden, diversity of habitats (creek, woods, prairie, meadow, etc.), bluebird boxes, winter walks, hiking, and more!
Simonton Lake and other lakes—Plenty of opportunities for water sports, backdropped with trees, viewing animal life. I like kayaking, canoeing, and swimming in nearby lakes.
Woodlawn Nature Center—The center offers nature programs and self-directed learning. It's a good place for children to play. A natural playscape is in the works. It is all directed and staffed by volunteers.
Wellfield Botanic Garden—What a beautiful spot. We love the plants, water, and sculptures.
Elkhart Environmental Center—The focus here is on recycling and sustainable living. There is a neat story of being the old dump. There is an interesting Ash tree memorial as well.
Downtown Elkhart River Walk—There is plenty of nature downtown. It is full of WATER! The NIBCO park has plants, grasses. There are ELK in the downtown area, as well as a Quilt garden. Island Park, Beardsley, High Dive Park, and many other small areas provide opportunities for fishing. 
Studebaker Park—Great place to look at trees, the river, and go on bird hike.
Boot Lake Nature Preserve—Nice hiking! I really enjoyed the frogs! There is a water area and great woods.
We also have great backyards and more city parks!

My Message: 
Get out there! Enjoy the great natural resources we have in Elkhart! Hope to meet you soon!
Nature is more than just identifying roadkill—it is insects, plants, amphibians, birds, mammals, trees, water, rocks, and more! Get outside! We don’t have to be experts—any entry level understanding works to enjoy time outside.