A former industrial site on the Whittier Peninsula near downtown Columbus has been reborn as an urban oasis where visitors can connect with nature. At the heart of this transformation is the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, the latest addition to Audubon's national network of 50 nature centers. The new community resource, on the banks of the Scioto River, is the culmination of a unique partnership between the City of Columbus Recreation & Parks Department, Metro Parks and Audubon Ohio.
Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, Franklin County Commission President Paula Brooks, and Audubon Board Chair B. Holt Thrasher attended the Gala ribbon cutting this morning.
"It's exciting for Audubon to be playing an important role in transforming this urban area into a new and exciting destination," said Thrasher. "We expect the seeds of stewardship will spread within this community and reflect America's diversity and promise and love of nature."
The Grange Insurance Audubon Center is the first urban facility of its kind in Ohio. Audubon has urban centers in Brooklyn, NY; Los Angeles, CA; Seattle, WA; and Dallas TX, as part of their nationwide network to connect people with nature and bring conservation stewardship to some of America's most diverse communities. "Making nature a part of local life is the best way to guarantee that future generations protect the health of our communities and our environment," said Heather Starck, the Center Director.
In keeping with Audubon's conservation philosophy, the 18,000 square foot Grange Insurance Audubon Center is a "green building," certified under national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria. It uses geothermal heating and cooling, a plant-filled green roof, recycled materials and other sustainable construction materials to reduce the center's carbon footprint. The Audubon building helps visitors understand how to make homes, businesses and schools more environmentally friendly.
Year-round environmental education programs will introduce individuals, families and schools to the birds and other wildlife of the Whittier Peninsula. Identified by Audubon as an Important Bird Area (IBA), the peninsula and Scioto River provide a stopover for thousands of migrating birds. In addition to abundant bird life, including Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and several warbler species, visitors exploring the 80-acre grounds can see a variety of habitats, including ponds. The Center's theme, "Exploring the Nature of Change," is boldly conveyed through vibrant exhibits that reflect the seasons.
"The completion of the Grange Insurance Audubon Center is a major milestone for Columbus," said Heather Starck. "Nature centers have a rich history of forging bonds and creating enduring impacts on the people they reach, particularly the school children who will be visiting the center."
Opening weekend activities at the Center include bird and dragon fly walks, butterfly gardening classes, and activities for children: puppet shows, face painting, and story hours. In addition, Metro Park offers adventurous visitors the challenge of a 35-foot-climbing wall (including two 7-8 foot boulders), and a rope climbing area.
Grange Insurance, based in Columbus, is honored in the name of the new center for its $4 million lead gift that helped make the facility possible. American Electric Power Company, Franklin County, Limited Brands, and the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio also provided key contributions for the $14.5 million project.
Metro Parks provided about $10 million for development of the 72-acre Scioto Audubon Metro Park, much of it supporting environmental remediation projects. Other improvements include extending biking and walking trails, a boat launch and fishing docks, wetlands construction and observation decks and pathways.
"Parks distinguish every great city," said John O'Meara, Metro Parks Executive Director. "This new park and nature center are a treasure for our community and are a vital component in making Columbus a great place to live, work or visit."
The Grange Insurance Audubon Center is open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The mission of Audubon Ohio is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats in Ohio by promoting conservation and biodiversity through education and advocacy. More at http://grange.audubon.org/
Read Audubon President John Flicker's column about the new center in Audubon Magazine online