Chippewa Nature Center to expand with new education center

Midland has spoken, and it loves its natural surroundings and the great outdoors. Due to a high demand, and an outgrown space, the Chippewa Nature Center is expanding to include a brand new Nature Education Center (NEC). The Center plans on breaking ground for the expansion in 2024, with estimated completion by 2025. 
Jenn Kirts is the director of programs for the Chippewa Nature Center.
The non-profit organization’s goal is to connect all with nature through educational, cultural, and recreational experiences. They hope their latest expansion can continue to build nature connections for the youth of today and tomorrow. Jenn Kirts, director of programs at Chippewa Nature Center, says the Center has grown tremendously since it first began in the mid-sixties. 

“One of the very first programs offered was the Nature Day Camp (NDC) program for just a handful of kids, followed by school field trips and then public programs,” Kirts says, “Our very first building constructed was the Nature Studies Building, built in 1967.”

Kids and amphibians at CNC's Nature Day Camp
The humble beginnings of the Nature Center started out with around 200 acres, and now has 1500 acres, 19 miles of trails, and sees over 18,000 students on field trips, according to Kirts. She adds the programs keep growing, and there’s even more where that came from

“Our camp grew from just a few kids to over 1,100 kids each summer. Our Nature Preschool started in 2007, and now we have classrooms of kids, serving 140 students throughout the school year,” she says. “Our programs have really grown dramatically, and the community just keeps asking for more.”

Nature Day Camp is the Center’s longest-running program, and continues to be a popular one with participants catching frogs, creating mini villages, and paddling the river. Many of the early education programs like preschools and camps have waitlists, with local families hoping they’ll get a chance to participate. 

During the pandemic, as many residents returned to nature out of safety, and spent more time outdoors at a distance, the Center noticed an uptick in visitors. Those increased numbers of attendees and trail use have remained, says Kirts. 
Entry to the planned new Nature Education Center
The next chapter of the expansion will include a multi-purpose indoor program space, two Nature Preschool classrooms, office space, a meeting room, accessible bathrooms, food prep areas, an outdoor covered area for 150 people, nature play areas, and trail and pond access. 

After the 2020 flood, one of the visitors centers was used for the Preschool classroom as well as Nature Day Camp, says Kirts.

“We didn’t have any other place to be, but the new Nature Education Center will help relieve some of that pressure, and give us the opportunity to grow,” she says. “It will also allow us to welcome more students during the school year here as well.”

Fun winter class at the Nature Preschool
So far, the Chippewa Nature Center has raised $4.2 million toward the $5.2 million project budget, with support from The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation, The Charles J. Strosacker Foundation, individual donors, and the Nature Center itself.

“The community has really shown a great love for Chippewa Nature Center,” Kirts says. “I think it’s a really great testament of our community – the support we’ve received so far, and it gives us an opportunity to better serve our community. We’re really excited about that.”

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Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at