Last week, Brad Donaldson sat down with Martha Grantham and Amelia Kennedy of the Natural Resources Education Centre in Middle Musquodoboit, NS to discuss their organization.
Q: What are your roles with the Natural Resources Education Centre (NREC)?
Martha: I am the supervisor of the Natural Resources Education Centre.
Amelia: I’m a natural resource educator.
Q: Summarizing, what is the NREC?
Martha: We do education-based programs that are curriculum-related throughout the school year. The NREC is responsible for basically sharing information—and hopefully creating good stewards—largely with the Nova Scotia public, but a lot is with youth. We have 120 acres of woodlands and trails right here in our own backyard, so our programs take place in the building, then migrate outdoors where the best part happens because that’s where a lot of the youth don’t have the opportunity [to go].
Q: Can you tell us a little more about the Nature Learning Place Space, which really seems to be a shining spot of the organization?
Martha: It’s a pretty amazing, neat playground, using natural materials that really evolved out of a community partnership, with lots of sponsors that jumped on board and enabled us to create this great, non-traditional, nature-based [environment] where kids can get back to nature.
Q: What other programs does the organization offer?
Martha: [One is] something called “Grade 4s Outdoors” . And it basically gives every grade 4 student in the province (so about eight thousands of them) a two-night camping pass for any of our provincial camping parks.
Q: How is the NREC associated with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)?
Martha: We’re in a branch [of the department] called Regional Services. It’s probably the largest part of the department, and within that [we work with] private lands, stewardship, and outreach. But it’s really about the outreach. There’s a focus on forestry and biodiversity, wildlife, rocks, minerals, mining, [parks], green spaces [as well].
Amelia: Within the department, [regional services] is seen as the service delivery. So we’re trying to get better at working with the rest of the department to deliver the messages if they have [something on] biodiversity, or some kind of other activity, whether it’s fire prevention—we can deliver that message for them.
Q: What are your organization’s biggest challenges?
Martha: Everyone has challenges with staffing and what not, so we do our best to offer programs and cover off what requests come in. But part of our job, which is really important, is to foster that sense of stewardship. And that’s really what the province is trying to do. [Another challenge is] because of the digital age that we’re in, there are a lot of people in the public that might not be as connected [with nature] as perhaps they were in the past. And it’s also a learning curve for us, too, because we’re navigating the digital world that [keeps] changing. So we know there are other things we could do but sometimes we have limitations in terms of our resources.
Q: What are some volunteer opportunities for people looking to give back and get more involved in fostering a love for the outdoors in their communities?
Martha: We’ve had co-op students from high schools and so on [in the past]. We don’t have a volunteer program per say. We did, for instance, have community build days for the Nature Learning Play Space. That was very much a community effort. And there are opportunities in some of the parks that are friends of [our] organization.
Q: Although there might not be a huge infrastructure for volunteers currently, are they still vital to organizations such as yours and others around the province?
Amelia: Definitely. And it might not be in the same kind of role we [usually] think of. But it’s just so huge that we live in such a beautiful province and just to take advantage of all those natural places and to have an opportunity to take kids outside. And to get them out and looking close at things…and being hands on. It always amazes me how when kids come out here, they’re all looking, listening, and happy to be outside. That’s huge for them. [Some of them] have never had that opportunity. We just need someone to take them there.
Q: Is there one area of Nova Scotia’s natural resources that stands out to the NREC?
Amelia: Some things that really hit home to me is that it’s amazing when we have kids—when we’re talking about wildlife—they’ll throw up their hands [with questions] on wildlife examples that come from Africa or the rainforest. And one of my passions is to speak of wildlife in Nova Scotia and what we have here. If we look closely, it’s amazing what we’ll see. And to talk about some of those adaptations and features, and make the kids really interested and knowledgeable about [our local wildlife] is something I’m really excited and passionate about.
Q: Regarding the NREC’s future, are there any changes, or areas of improvement, you would like to see addressed moving forward?
Martha: We know that not everyone can come here. So we’ll be looking at things that might make it easier for folks. Maybe we can improve our presence on the web, and we’ve been growing [our] social media. We’re looking at trying to be more accessible. And our trails are great but not always accessible to everyone. That’s gotta keep going. There will always be people who need to make a connection with nature. And that’s what we have here—we’ve got the real thing.