There is something magical happening in downtown Columbus, Ohio. A mile from office towers and high-rise housing is an oasis of green, 120 acres of parkland anchored by an Audubon Center. The Grange Insurance Audubon Center in Columbus stands witness to Audubon’s ability to change lives and build community.
It’s a model for a bird-friendly community, as we told Mayor Michael Coleman this spring when we went there to present him with a Conservation Champion Award. Through a terrific civic collaboration, Columbus was able to transform an auto
impound yard into a refuge for birds and people alike. It is a perfect example of the importance of partnerships, our respect for stakeholders, and our understanding of how essential it is to build that sense of community.
Columbus Audubon first met with city officials in 1998 to push the notion of a park and nature center on the industrialized and abandoned Whittier Peninsula, which sits on a migratory flyway. In 2003 Audubon Ohio, Franklin County Metro Parks, and the City of Columbus agreed to collaborate on the project. A $4 million gift from Grange Insurance made the project real. Major support followed from American Electric Power and AEP Ohio, L Brands, Franklin County, and the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio—all of them deeply committed to the quality of life in one of America’s most vibrant cities.
This unique Chapter-driven partnership of civic and community leaders and private corporate support has made the Grange Insurance Audubon Center a poster child for bird-friendly communities everywhere. The Center, one of the few in the country built so close to the heart of a major city, serves public school students, most from low-income, ethnically diverse neighborhoods where the majority of families are living beneath the poverty line and almost a quarter of the families are headed by single moms. Between 2,500 and 3,000 students from 10 partner schools come to the Center each year for a series of programs that enhance their classroom learning. One school administrator credits the Center with upping the rate of students who passed their science proficiency tests from 8 percent to 48 percent in just two years.
We always say, “Where birds thrive, people prosper,” and in Columbus, providing habitat for black-crowned night-herons, spotted sandpipers, raptors, warblers, and thrushes is enriching life for tens of thousands of Ohio residents.
While birds are great at taking care of their young and themselves, only we can take care of the places they live. We do that, in part, by teaching one another about sharing the habitat we all call home. In Columbus, politicians, corporate leaders, a proud Chapter, and some selfless Audubon staff have turned a brownfield into a civic treasure.