Howard Christensen Nature Center takes steps to reopen
by TOM NOREEN
A group of about 30 people gathered at the Tyrone Township Hall on March 3 to learn about the progress made in reopening the Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), 16160 Red Pine Dr, Kent City, as its own nonprofit 501(c)3 organization. The center closed in January due to a funding shortage.
Cindy Perski, with the assistance of Kathy Reed (former director under the Kent Conservation District), has taken the lead at creating the umbrella organization that would oversee the center. Perski recently retired as CEO of a manufacturing company in Southwest Michigan. After retirement, she sought out Reed to volunteer at HCNC, only to find out that the center was going to close. Perski’s goal is “to give a legacy to our communities, children, to volunteer with a purpose, to give unselfishly, to expect nothing back in return, to leave this life better than I found it. It is an act of responsibility to leave a positive legacy.” She decided to put her words into action and see what she could do to bring the nature center back to life.
During the meeting, former director Ranger Steve Mueller gave a brief history of the center and its primary goal of education. The Kent Intermediate School District (KISD) ran the facility from 1976 until it closed in 2005 because of budgetary constraints. The KISD owns the 142-acre facility and would be willing to negotiate a lease with a qualified nonprofit as they did with the Kent Conservation District (KCD).
KCD Chair Connie Redding explained that the KCD used the facility to not only provide educational opportunities to school children but as a demonstration site for the services that KCD provides to land owners in the county. She briefed that funding was the primary reason for not renewing their lease. During the four years that the KCD ran HCNC, the center ran a loss of about $30,000.
“We will be willing to help and are very supportive of this plan,” said Redding.
One attendee asked about the 10-year Forestry Plan and Redding said the plan was still intact and all it needed was an individual or organization to execute it.
One of the primary agenda items was identification of potential directors/advisors for the board. While Perski has filed the initial forms for creating the nonprofit under the name Lily’s Frog Pad, a board must be established to take responsibility.
Reed said, “We are looking for a diversified board with different talents in such areas as finance, marketing, education, fundraising, and legal.”
According to the draft by-laws, the board must have at least three members and up to ten. Perski asked those interested in being on the board to leave their name. She plans to contact each and have a follow-up meeting within the next two weeks.
One of the first actions of the board is to agree on a name for the organization, which may be different from the actual center. Reed affirmed that the Christensen family was supportive of this plan and of using the current name. Perski said that, from a marketing perspective, the organization’s name should be short, easy to remember and have an association with the location. An example she gave was “Pure Nature.” Those in attendance were asked to submit ideas for the organization’s name.
Reed was questioned about current funding for the group and she said that a $3,000 matching grant was available once the organization could open a checking account. She said she already had matching funds for this. The historical operating expenses for part-time operation was between $35,000 and $40,000.
There was a great deal of positive input from the audience regarding potential uses, fundraising, and collaborating opportunities. The group left with a sense of encouragement that a bright new future awaits HCNC.