On a recent crisp, clear day, a few mothers holding binoculars in one hand and a piece of paper in the other strolled Dunwoody Nature Center with their small children in tow as they searched for a place to spot a woodpecker or red-tailed hawk.
It was the first day of the national Great Backyard Bird Count and participants were searching for birds in the sky and trees and then writing down what they spotted on a GBBC form.
“It’s amazing what natures brings to this 22 acres, with all this suburbia around it,” said Alan Mothner, executive director of the Center.
The class instructing people how to contribute to the bird count was packed, Mothner said, just like all the free programs the center offers year round. And it is time for the Dunwoody Nature Center to, ahem, bloom so it can manage its continuing growth.
“Each year we have about 14,000 program participants and 17,000 visitors — that doesn’t even count the 30,000 people we don’t see who just come here to walk their dog, walk the trail or sit and read a book,” Mothner said.
The Nature Center is located in city-owned Dunwoody Park and operates as a public-private partnership with the city. The city funds some capital improvement projects, but the Nature Center also receives federal and state grants while also relying on corporate and individual sponsors.
The board and staff of the Nature Center implemented its own master plan this week; it has two key components that need to be funded immediately, Mothner said – parking and programming space. Cost for these projects nears the $1.5 million mark.
Where to park?
There are less than 20 spots available for parking. The Nature Center envisions a new turnaround in close proximity to its main building and more parking spaces inserted between trees and along the entrance drive. Paving could be done as soon as this spring.
“During a weekend in the spring or fall when the weather is nice, there is nowhere to park, and people don’t want to deal with parking when they come to the park,” Mothner said.
The proposed turnaround would allow school buses, for example, to drop groups of children off at the Nature Center entrance and then easily turn around to find parking elsewhere.
Fulfilling Nature Center’s mission
The other immediate task at hand is to build an 1,800-square-foot pavilion on the hill overlooking the meadow as an extension of the Nature Center. The pavilion would have a low roofline and a fireplace.
The pavilion would add needed covered space to the Nature Center’s facilities and would allow for more programming, Mothner said, including Boy Scout and Girl Scout troop meetings and school field trips.
The main problem the Nature Center is facing is that all its children summer programming, all the adult workshops, rapidly fill up with members, Mothner said.
He admits that’s a good problem to have, but it leaves few spaces open to the general public. Ad when people are denied a chance to participate at the Nature Center simply because there is no room, the Nature Center can’t achieve its mission of educating children, families and adults of all ages about the natural world and raising environmental awareness, Mothner said.
The pavilion’s added space could also be rented for corporate meetings or even wedding ceremonies, bringing revenue back into the Nature Center to support its programming while also “fulfilling our mission of getting people involved in nature,” he said.
“A second pavilion would be able to be used for classrooms and meeting space. Right now we can’t do separate events at the same time because we only have one building,” Mothner explained. “Having a second space allows us to do multifunction events.”
After the turnaround and the 1,800 square foot pavilion are completed, the Nature Center would then hire a firm to come in to determine if there is enough demand in the community to begin a large capital campaign to raise funds for Phase I of the project, Mothner explained.