Nature Discovery Center

Inviting people of all ages and abilities to learn about & value nature

Land Trust of North Alabama is excited to explore the possibility of creating a Nature Discovery Center at Monte Sano Nature Preserve. The vision is to provide an approachable, inviting place for people of all ages and abilities to learn about our natural surroundings so they can better understand why conservation of our natural places is so important.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about this project. Please share your feedback by completing the survey at the link below. Before you begin, we encourage you to read a full description of the project provided below.

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Approachable & Inspiring for People of all Ages & Abilities

A truly immersive experience with nature is imperative – not only for people who are comfortable being in nature but also one for those who are not. Our community is growing exponentially, which is exciting and terrifying. As we embrace the vibrancy of our economic success, we must also strive to save places that will provide for a healthy, sustainable future. To accomplish this, more people must become aware of the benefits our natural world provides. Therefore, the urgency of creating a Nature Discovery Center has become more important than ever.

All too often, we invite children to come outside and learn about nature but they arrive scared of what they may find, literally afraid to walk down a trail or play in a creek. While this may seem foreign to many who grew up spending time outdoors, more and more people do not have access to places to engage with nature and many kids do not spend their days playing in the woods. With no frame of reference to appreciate its value, people often grow complacent and indifferent to the protection of our special natural places.

The Nature Discovery Center will offer a comfortable first step for people with different backgrounds, interests, and concerns to foster an appreciation of our natural resources as well as our role in saving vulnerable spaces. The Center’s primary focus will be environmental education and awareness of the natural history and treasures we can discover so close to home. Our hope is to provide a gentle introduction to, and inspire a relationship with, nature.

An Invitation to Environmental Education

It’s important for all of us to understand why nature matters and how we all can work together to preserve it. For years, the Land Trust has offered educational programming to help introduce children and adults to the outdoors and foster a greater understanding of its value. Through informational guided hikes, Tuesdays on the Trail (a summer series for kids), and customized, hands-on excursions for small school groups, we’ve hosted a variety of opportunities to explore alongside educators and naturalists. However, without appropriate facilities we are not able to host grade level field trips to bring natural science lessons to life. In order to accommodate these larger school groups, we need a space with amenities, like restrooms, where outings into the woods can start and end. Classrooms and flexible learning spaces provide areas to gather when weather makes outdoor activities impractical or to introduce a lesson and prepare students before heading outside.

A Nature Discovery Center would enable us to reach people of all ages and abilities. By offering a gateway to the outdoors, we can encourage more people to explore, learn about, and enjoy our unique natural surroundings. For those who are physically unable to access our trails or simply afraid to do so, this would provide a welcoming, fully-accessible space to ask questions, gather information, or simply sit while surrounded by trees and the sounds of birds. We envision a gathering spot for nature lovers of all varieties: a place to meet, learn, relax, and exchange ideas.

Proposed Location

This idea is not new to the Land Trust. Establishing a Nature Discovery Center has been part of our organizational vision for over 25 years and throughout that time a variety of locations have been explored. However, none were determined to address community needs, largely because each proposed location was disconnected from natural spaces and Land Trust trails. Over the last couple of years, Land Trust leadership continued to investigate potential locations on Land Trust properties. Site evaluation considered factors such as accessibility, proximity to our primary service area, connection to land trust trails, topography, available utilities, and environmental impact. A site on Monte Sano Nature Preserve near the corner of Bankhead Parkway and Toll Gate Road (as indicated on the map below) has been identified as the ideal location. Not only is it centrally located to best serve our community, but it is also a site heavily overrun with invasive species, particularly Japanese honeysuckle. In fact, the honeysuckle is so pervasive in this area that native vegetation has been choked out and the trees are unable to regenerate. While preparing the site for the Nature Discovery Center, we plan to revitalize the surrounding area by removing substantial amounts of invasive species and restoring native flora so it can once again flourish.

Site Plan 2

The Nature Discovery Center

The building and placement of the Nature Discovery Center are designed to impact the terrain as little as possible and blend into the natural surroundings. Plans for the facility include a flexible learning space and classrooms featuring indoor/outdoor flow. A welcoming exhibit space will invite visitors to gather information about trails on Land Trust nature preserves and around the area and discover more about North Alabama’s unique natural world. The location would serve as an additional trailhead with parking for a popular area of Monte Sano Nature Preserve. The Center will also include the Land Trust’s administrative offices so we can provide welcoming faces to greet our visitors and answer questions. While we hope to do this with the volunteer support, incorporating administrative offices into the facility allows us to ensure the building is staffed even when volunteers are not available and without the need for additional staff members. Staff members will also coordinate and manage education programs that take place at the facility.

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We invite you to share your thoughts and ask questions. Please contact us at 256-534-5263 or questions@landtrustnal.org.