The bulldozers have rumbled off, the hammers have quieted, the paint has dried, and the public is now welcome at the Grand Traverse Conservation District’s new nature center, on the Boardman River, south of Traverse City. To find out what good things we can expect, MyNorth checked in with Colleen Masterson, the center’s just-hired and well prepared education director. Previously Masterson taught on the Inland Seas schoolship, worked at the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute and still teaches part-time at Northwestern Michigan College.

We keep seeing more and more data that shows people spend less time in nature—how will the center help reverse that?

I grew up on a farm in southern Ontario, so all of my time was spent outdoors, and that had a big impact on me. I know that not everyone has that these days. Not everybody has a parent who takes them outside. Even teachers are not always comfortable taking kids outdoors. That and the fact that with computers, folks know so much about what’s happening in other parts of the world, but not necessarily in their own community. Here, I can help people get involved in a more active way, make good decisions here, take some action. Outdoor education can be a civic engagement sort of thing. But I know the trend is for people to spend less time outdoors—even people I talk to in outdoor professions are spending more time at their computers doing their jobs.

In the end, this is, obviously, all about people connecting with nature, and when they are connected with nature, they will be more likely to fight for it. It’s only natural that you wouldn’t fight hard for something that you don’t understand or don’t have a connection to.

It’s kind of surprising that in an area like Traverse City, where people are so focused on nature, that we’ve never had a really nice nature center before—what will we get here?

We’re going to offer a continuum of experience. People can stop by anytime year round, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays to see the exhibits. We are starting with a few things, like animals on display, and we are designing new exhibits and activities for the longer term, more interactive, hands on things. People can pick up trail maps, and we’ll have volunteers there to give guidance to folks heading out on the trails, get outdoors.

Are you still looking for volunteers?

Yes. We need people for many things—helping to staff the center, greet visitors, answer questions, design education programs, create exhibits, maintain grounds, trail stewards.

Grand Traverse Conservation District Nature Center, 1450 Cass Rd., Traverse City, MI 49684, 231-941-0960,, Directions: Take Cass Road south about 1 3/4 miles south of South Airport Road. Look for sign on east side of road. If you reach a 90-degree turn in road you passed it.