Connecting Kids and Nature in the City
When we think about natural resources – trees, air, water, wildlife – we often think about rural places and big open spaces. Rarely is the term ‘natural resources’ used with respect to cities and urbanized areas, but we have natural resources in the city too! The city of Elkhart has some very special natural resources including two large rivers, the Elkhart River and the St. Joseph River, that run through the heart of the city and connect in downtown! The City of Elkhart is also one of the oldest Tree City USA communities in Indiana – we love our trees! Specially trained individuals monitor the health of our rivers and plant and care for the trees along our streets and in our parks.
You can find nature in the city, as big as a river and as simple as a street tree. You can go exploring to find the trees in your neighborhood. Find trees outside your door, down the block or around the corner. Trees are not only beautiful – they do so much for us. They clean the air and the water, keep soil from washing away, provide shade and cool our cities during even the hottest summers. Read a book or rest your feet under the shade of a tree, feel the texture of the bark and find a creepy crawly, smell the leaves and even the flowers in the spring. How many birds and squirrels can you find in the trees near where you live?
Where else can you find nature in the city? You can find 66 acres of trees, water, flowers, birds, bugs and more near downtown Elkhart at the Elkhart Environmental Center (EEC). Head east on Lusher and you’ll find that noisy intersections and gas stations disappear as you encounter a tree lined path that leads to a beautiful log cabin. You’ve arrived at the EEC! With trails along the Elkhart River, wetlands, prairies, rain gardens, and more, it feels like you drove into the country, but you never left the city! At the EEC we learn that nature is all around us, no matter where we call home!
But it didn’t always look this good. In the 1950’s and 1960’s the people of Elkhart came here to dump their trash, before we had a landfill. How did a place full of trash become a beautiful natural area with trails and birds?
Kids and adults decided to make it a better place. They stopped trashing it and they started cleaning it up. They planted flowers and trees. Kids can make a big difference! You can plant a little nature near your home – plant some flower seeds on a windowsill, plant a tomato or some lettuce in a pot on your porch or patio, or even plant your own special tree.
You can pick out your own tree, for free, at Abor Day events across Elkhart including the EEC’s Arbor Day on Saturday, April 30th! We give away trees, both big and small, so you can find one that’s right for you!
You can learn how to plant and care for your tree with demonstrations from our Forestry Division, then take it home and, together, plant your own special tree.
Want to start a garden of your own, but don’t know how? Visit the education garden at the EEC! It’s open spring through fall and you can try your hand at being a gardener or an ‘urban farmer’ here. Help us plant some seeds, taste some fresh ripe veggies and get ready to start your own!
Find the nature in your community, whether you live in the city or out in the country, and find ways to make the world an even better place with your own two hands, a seed and a little determination!