Near to Nature: Environmental Education "Wild Pursuits" Nature Clubhouse
Grant Year: 2023 | Focus Area: Environment & Recreation| Amount: $108,364| Grant Status: In progress
The mission of the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge (ECWR) is education, conservation, and rehabilitation for the welfare of Florida's natural fauna and marine mammals. Founded in 1994, ECWR has grown from a single volunteer responding to a stranded dolphin, to a nationally recognized state and federally permitted rehabilitation center. The organization accomplishes this mission by creating an environment focused on educating the public about conservation and coexistence with wildlife while utilizing state-of-the-art digital x-ray equipment and a marine mammal necropsy suite. The Refuge's natural setting is surrounded by animal ambassadors and rehabilitation patients cradled under majestic oaks. ECWR hosts field trips for 3,000 children each year and a Community Outreach Lecture Series that works with various local organizations. Additional programs include Take a Kid Fishing, Internship Programs, Marine Mammal Stranding Team, Raptor Team, Boy/Girl Scouts Badge Programs, and Garden Club Partnerships to keep the property "wildlife and pollinator friendly." ECWR is the only local wildlife refuge with Marine Mammal and Wildlife permits, affording more educational opportunities.
OVERVIEW OF THE PROPOSED PROJECT
ECWR’s programs cannot expand without creating more space. The proposed "Wild Pursuits" Environmental Clubhouse is a nature-themed outdoor space with hands-on, interactive exhibits creating "teachable moments." Designed to connect people with experiences that demonstrate how behavior impacts our environment, the new space will be home to camps, lecture series and field trips. The clubhouse will allow ECWR to offer unique STEAM wildlife and marine mammal programs to larger numbers of students and groups throughout each year. Early education environmental learning centers will be implemented. Adult program offerings will be explored to include Nature Yoga, Local Wildlife Art Night, and Afternoon Teatime in Nature. IMPACT 100 funds will be used to construct an outdoor 24’x 48’ pavilion equipped with fans, lumber benches, tables, audiovisual systems, wildlife friendly lighting and televisions. Video streaming from the Medical, Flight and Necropsy Centers to the Clubhouse will allow attendees to witness the health, medical and rehabilitative services performed at ECWR in areas prohibited public entry by federal and state law. In addition, an IMPACT 100 logo sign made of laser engraved wood sourced from native Florida trees will be funded.
EXPECTED IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY
Soon after ECWR opened its custom built medical and flight rehabilitation centers, federal and state agencies that oversee the organization’s permits changed criteria to no longer allow tours and visitors through the ECWR facilities. These changes were implemented to limit the human interaction that rehabbing wild animals encounter. The "Wild Pursuits" Environmental Nature Clubhouse will allow visitors to observe the activities of these restricted areas via livestream broadcasting, thus keeping ECWR in compliance while still providing educational opportunities to visitors and protecting the wildlife. Displaying the work performed in the medical and flight centers is integral to the environmental programs and gives a behind the scenes view of animal rehabilitation. With this expansion, ECWR will be able to increase the number of visitors daily by 100, expand environmental programs, employ new educators, increase awareness of the importance of environmental impact and eco-tourism to our region, increase camp attendance, inspire children to pursue careers in STEAM focused environmental fields, and provide affordable and captivating programs to the community that highlight Florida Native Wildlife.