By Pete LaHaie
Parks are not only used for recreation. They can be used to provide a wide variety of educational opportunities as well. Parks can be used for educational purposes for a variety of groups including visitors from the community, primary and secondary school students, and college students. Budruk and Phillips (2011) assert that when this is done, community members experience an increase in their perceived satisfaction with parks. An important piece of community members’ satisfaction with their experiences when visiting parks is the degree to which they feel the park contributes to the overall wellbeing of their community.
More and more, a key aspect of this level of community satisfaction with parklands is related to sustainability. Community members consider the impact that the development of the park has had with regard to the environment in addition to the local economy. The buildings that are constructed for educational purposes can be exhibits themselves, as some that have been constructed in recent years have focused on sustainable building design and construction.
The main facility in the Village of Schaumburg that focuses on conservation and sustainability education is the Spring Valley Nature Center. Spring Valley is composed of 135 acres of fields, forests, marshes, and streams. It also features over three miles of hiking trails, a nature center that includes natural history displays and information, and an 1880s “living history” farm.
According to the Schaumburg Park District, The Vera Meineke Nature Center at Spring Valley is an earth-sheltered, passive-solar visitor center that includes hands-on exhibits and a natural history library. Volkening Heritage Farm transports visitors back in time to the 1880s when Schaumburg was a rural German farming community. Visitors can help with farm chores, participate in games and family activities from the late 19th century, or just relax and visit the farm animals. Both facilities offer a multitude of programming for children of all ages, families, and students. The Schaumburg Park District describes its educational programming on their website:
Spring Valley Nature Center’s environmental education programs for schools hosted over 10,000 school children in 2011, the largest number of students ever to participate in these programs. Students attending school field trip programs are able to supplement lessons learned in school by engaging in outdoor activities that teach about prairies, woodlands and wetlands along with the creatures that call these areas home. Many students visit from District 54 schools.
In addition to Spring Valley, the Village of Schaumburg maintains four conservation areas encompassing nearly 300 acres of preserved natural land. These preserves provide homes for wildlife and offer visitors the opportunity to experience plants and animals native to Illinois.
The Schaumburg Park District also educates residents about sustainability by engaging in a number of sustainable endeavors. The District’s March 2009 Green Light Sustainability Plan states that, “It is essential that the District become known as a benchmark and role model for the best sustainable practices in the area.” This detailed 23-page document outlines steps to be taken to address the management of the district’s vast resources including both exterior and interior facilities. There are also sections to address water management and energy conservation.
Some specific sustainable initiatives the Schaumburg Park District has undertaken include: using electric golf carts on their golf course, using electronic communication to communicate with community members, selling rain collection barrels to residents, using infrared technology to turn the lights off in unoccupied rooms in their facilities, offering battery recycling to residents, using green roofing at the nature center, and offering recycling receptacles at all of its facilities.
The other source of parklands used for educational purposes in the northwest suburbs is the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The closest such forest preserve facility to Schaumburg that is being used for educational purposes is the Crabtree Nature Center located in Barrington. According to the District, Crabtree is composed of over one thousand glacier-formed acres.
The District recounts the history of the land on their website:
Before 1830, this land was clothed in forest, prairie and marsh, but then people brought rapid change to the countryside. Prairies were plowed to grow crops; timber cut for fuel and building material; marshes drained for farming or dredged to make lakes. Since its purchase in the mid-1960s by the Forest Preserve District, Crabtree has been slowly returning to its natural state, through the natural process of plant succession assisted by Forest Preserve management.
Crabtree is popular with birds and those who enjoy watching them. There have been over 260 species of birds observed at the Center including at least 89 species that have also been recorded breeding. Ducks and geese can also be seen on Crabtree Lake during the spring and fall seasons. The woodlands are covered with wildflowers in spring and the meadows and prairies showcase blossoms in summer and fall. Finally, there are several miles of self-guided trails and exhibits that allow visitors to Crabtree the opportunity to learn about the important relationships that exist between all of the various plant and animals species found there.
The Schaumburg Park District and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County provide a number of opportunities for residents of the Village of Schaumburg and Cook County to learn about sustainability as well as the importance of preserving and restoring biodiversity. It is essential that residents continue to learn more about their individual and collective impacts on the environment. In an area that has been so altered by development, it is imperative that residents continue to become educated about how they can play a part in protecting and preserving these nature preserved for future generations.
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