Warner Robins Nature Center grows from community effort

mstucka@macon.comApril 29, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- As with most things in nature, the Warner Robins Nature Center & Botanical Gardens began with a small seed but quickly grew to become much more.

In just the past few weeks, Boy Scouts built a bridge, and other volunteers built a large pavilion. A looping trail off Elberta and Story roads connects to a park, while revamped greenhouses are flourishing with donated plants.

The effort had its ribbon-cutting Tuesday before its first big event -- a festival this Saturday.

The botanical gardens and greenhouses are on land from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which had hoped to do horticultural therapy. That started about a decade ago, but the effort languished as funding fell.

Last fall, Ben White, a Georgia Military College professor of natural sciences, got involved again and got more ideas. More volunteers and more donors signed on as the project grew, said Jeanne Bauer, executive director of NAMI Central Georgia.

“Ben would say, ‘How do you feel about so-and-so?’ And a day or two later, it was done,” Bauer recounted.

In all, the site encompasses about 10 acres. A trail runs through the Warner Robins-owned woods between NAMI and Ferguson Park. Signs point out natural features, such as where fallen trees create more life in the woods. Georgia Military College students built a pavilion that can be used as an outdoor classroom, while an indoor classroom was built inside a nearby warehouse.

Jim Taylor, another volunteer who has donated materials through his Warner Robins Supply, said the effort keeps evolving. Earlier this week a woman pulled up with her little boy, Michael, and looked around.

“She said, ‘This is so cool. Are you going to do a pre-K program here?’ ” Taylor recalled, before saying that such classes, too, are in the works.

Bauer hopes the site can host field trips, nature classes and lessons on sustainability and environmentalism. The improvements will help the mentally ill residents of a group home, who can find inner peace in natural peace, she said. But they’ll also help the community, particularly children, as well.

The nature center has been built without tax proceeds.

“This is a beautiful, wonderful picture of what our community is all about,” Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms said Tuesday.

Much of the recent work was getting ready for Earthfest, which will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The event will include about a dozen vendors at Ferguson Park, children’s crafts, conversations with nature lovers, tours of the Warner Robins Nature Center & Botanical Gardens, and displays of animals by Georgia Military College students.

For information, call 478-929-7258. Parking will be available at Ferguson Park and at both the Elberta Road and Story Road entrances to the nature center.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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