Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Education, the Environment, and the Jester Park Nature Center

Education represents a vital part of the foundation of Polk County Conservation and our mission here in central Iowa. For more than 35 years, Polk County Conservation environmental educators have been providing quality environmental education programming to people of all ages in the Greater Des Moines area. Recognized as one the fasted growing urban populations in the Midwest, there is an increased need and public demand for environmental education programming in our dynamic community.

More than 276,000 individuals have participated in one of PCC's environmental education programs in the past eight years. When the Jester Park Nature Center opens its doors, programming numbers are expected to double. The Center will benefit visitors in a variety of ways by:

...year-round environmental education opportunities 

...with interpretive exhibits on the importance of biodiversity, water quality, and conservation of natural resources

...through enhanced STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering, and  Math) programming

...community health through increased outdoor skills programming and increased time in nature

...rental equipment such as cross country skis, snowshoes, insect nets and fishing poles

...a destination site for tourists to engage in outdoor discover


Partnering with local schools will be a crucial component as relevance of conservation and sustainability to STEM studies will be highlighted at the Jester Park Nature Center. An important part of these partnerships includes immersing students into the natural environment through field trips.

During the 2014-2015 school year, PCC naturalists led a total of 125 field trips, involving 702 programs and 8,959 students. Teachers are provided tangible, hands-on experience outside of the confines of a classroom through these trips. This, in turn, enhances topics covered in the classroom by actively engaging students in exploration of the arena in which natural processes are played out. Learning objectives are met while having fun in the great outdoors - a true win-win scenario for both the student and teacher as well as the naturalists here at Polk County Conservation.

The Center will also provide year-round indoor classrooms that will facilitate learning about the natural world even in inclement weather. Classrooms and common areas will create a welcoming environment for our naturalists to capture the minds, hearts and imagination of visitors of all ages.

Designed with our educational and environmental missions in mind, the Jester Park Nature Center will fill a need felt throughout the state of Iowa. It will serve as a portal to outdoors and a gateway for learning for students from all walks and stages of life. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Health, Wellness and Quality of Life Outdoors at the Jester Park Nature Center

Beep, beep, beep, beep.
It's 6:00 a.m. on a Monday. 
Time to start the week. 

Whether you're a student rushing to squeeze in an extra hour of studying before class after a late night in the library; a parent rushing to get children awake, dressed and excited for the school day; or a vital cog in the work machine that is the corporate and small business world, you are no stranger to the daily stresses and obligations of this modern world.

Now, more than ever, the restorative powers of nature are not ones to overlook. The average American lifestyle does not allow much for the natural and necessary slowdown crucial to optimal health and wellness. Immersion in the natural world provides a passive process by which simply being present provides immense benefits to one's overall well-being. The Jester Park Nature Center will provide a haven for respite from this fast-paced world in which we reside.

The nature center will serve as an outdoor recreation hub where both education and access intersect resulting in a myriad of available activities that include hiking, birding, canoeing, geocaching, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, camping and more. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoorsperson or simply have an interest in getting more active outdoors, think of the Jester Park Nature Center as the launchpad into all your adventures in the natural world.

This center will also embrace the opportunity to partner with local health care agencies and initiatives to improve our state's overall heath and well-being. Polk County Conservation and UnityPoint Health - Des Moines have been partnering for years to encourage people to Do More Outdoors.

The physical and mental health benefits people derive from being outdoors is significant. Educating the public about outdoor health and recreation will be enhanced greatly because of the Jester Park Nature Center.  -  Joseph F. Corfits, Jr., CFO, UnityPoint Health.

It is vital to provide a gathering a place - a starting point if you will - for residents and visitors to begin their outdoor adventures and path to health. Accessibility is the key component in this recipe for wellness and the Jester Park Nature Center will fill that current gap in Polk County. Access to the tools and knowledge, as well as the inspiration to get outside and into nature, is what the Jester Park Nature Center will bring to central Iowa. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Economic Vitality and Communal Wellbeing at the Jester Park Nature Center

Rear view of the Jester Park Nature Center

In partnership with the Great Outdoors Foundation and the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Polk County Conservation is proud to announce a boon to Iowa's economy through the Jester Park Nature Center project. This project, in the final stage of its capital campaign, will be a key attraction in Central Iowa's 'year-round playground' destination at Jester Park. 

Jester Park Nature Center will serve as a place where education, recreation and tourism intersect into one setting. This opportunity will provide exceptional value to this region by serving as a significant tourist attraction and welcome center, portal to Polk County's family of parks and Jester Park's new front porch. Tourists, students, educators, families, and others will connect through this center to the natural playscape and bison/elk exhibit, restored woodlands, Saylorville Lake and a network of nature trails immersing visitors back into nature. 

The bison/elk exhibit at Jester Park immerses visitors in the native Iowa landscape

Outdoor nature-based recreation has become one of the largest industries in Iowa with our natural areas as vital components of the economy. Businesses benefit from accessible quality parks, trails, and outdoor recreation available for their employees with potential employees and entrepreneurs basing job choices on available outdoor opportunities. It was also found from survey conducted by the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau that 62% of visitor respondents marked Outdoor Activities and Parks as a preferred interest. 

Visitors and residents of Polk County can fulfill that need to seek and commune with the natural world and begin their outdoor adventures right here in central Iowa at the Jester Park Nature Center. With a population that is expected to grow by as much as 50% within the next 35 years, development of a facility that will provide people with immersion into wild places and grant unparalleled opportunities for all who visit this portal to the outdoors is key not only to healthy minds and bodies but also to a robust economy. This center will impose a positive influence on the surrounding community. Property values increase in the vicinity of nature centers. Employment is provided. The center will become a place of value for local businesses and residential neighbors through the provision of overall wellness and outdoor opportunities. The Jester Park Nature Center will provide entertainment through education and recreation to locals while attracting visitors to the area who will then frequent other surrounding businesses. Thriving individuals foster a thriving local economy and the Jester Park Nature Center will be at the forefront of these endeavors.  

Join us on Thursday, April 21st at 4:00 p.m. for the Jester Park Nature Center public announcement at the downtown offices of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Hosted by Polk County Conservation, the Great Outdoors Foundation, and the Jester Park Nature Center Leadership Team, the launch announcement will include remarks from the planning team who will give an overview of the nature center's design and expected groundbreaking date as well as opportunities to learn about the Nature Center's impact on Iowa's economic future, conservation, and quality of life. A short reception will follow the media announcement. The event is open to the public. RSVP required - to secure your free reservation please register here. Space is limited to the first 200 people to register.