The University Record, May 21, 2001

Dearborn Environmental Interpretive Center to open May 25

By Jennifer Sroka

The U-M-Dearborn will celebrate the grand opening of its new Environmental Interpretive Center at 11 a.m. May 25. The Center is one of the first major projects in the Rouge River Gateway master plan to be fully realized.

“The Center will play a major role in enhancing environmental awareness in the Rouge River watershed and the life it supports,” says Orin Gelderloos, professor of biology and environmental studies and director of the natural areas at Dearborn.

“The Center will not only provide classroom space for students enrolled in our environmental field courses, but it also will use interactive exhibits to reach out to the visitors who participate in our nature study programs,” Gelderloos says.

A collaboration between U-M-Dearborn and Wayne County, the Environmental Interpretive Center will allow the campus to expand its environmental education programming, scientific research, and monitoring and stewardship of the watershed.

“U-M-Dearborn has become a leader in environmental education in the metropolitan area,” says Gelderloos. “In addition to hundreds of traditional students studying the environment, the campus has developed several programs to help integrate environmental studies in the K–12 curriculum, and more than 15,000 participants come to the campus each year for environmental programs.”

The 12,900-square-foot Center will provide flexible and appropriate spaces for these programs, Gelderloos says, and help promote community education and outreach; teacher training; and research experiences for undergraduates, community volunteers and program naturalists.

“For the past three decades, these audiences have not had the benefit of a permanent gathering place to discuss their findings and experiences,” Gelderloos says.

The Center was designed to provide visitors with an active experience with the natural world. For instance, local children helped paint the 1,200 ceramic tiles that will make up the Children’s Environmental Wall in the Center, a project supported by a $250,000 gift from the Ford Motor Co. The tiles, featuring children’s impressions of the natural environment, were fired in the pottery kilns at Greenfield Village.

The facility also will house an interactive computer database of the Rouge River Watershed where visitors will be able to learn about the watershed and their connection to it. There will be exhibits of flora, fauna and ecological concepts to provide visitors with a preview of what they will see in the Environmental Study Area.

Other features will include large windows for observing birds and mammals at feeding stations; three laboratory classrooms for group activities; a field laboratory for analysis of bird populations; “wet labs” in two classrooms for examination of aquatic specimens from the pond, lake and river near the site; a sheltered outdoor area to stage programs such as making maple syrup; and a quiet room for hands-on learning.

In addition, the Center will serve as a model for environmentally friendly building design. For instance, much of the Center’s furniture is made from recycled material.

The project’s total cost is estimated at $3.5 million, with three-fourths funded by the state. Wayne County awarded U-M-Dearborn $500,000 to support construction and programming, and has entered a long-term collaboration with the University for environmental programming and stewardship in the Rouge River watershed. The McGregor Fund, a private foundation established in 1925 by gifts from Katherine and Tracy McGregor, contributed $98,500 to the project to create a large-scale educational model of the Rouge River watershed.

The Rouge River Gateway Partnership members are: U-M-Dearborn; Ford; Edward C. Levy Co.; Rouge Steel; Marathon Oil; MichCon; Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village; the cities of Allen Park, Dearborn, Detroit and Mevindale; Wayne County; and Henry Ford Community College.