Nature Center's legacy continues to blossom

Fifteen years after their mom, Maggie Watson, planted it, Macy, 1, and Anabelle, 3, enjoy the shade under a fir tree in their grandparents' yard.

In 1945, when Dr. Elberta Fleming planted the seeds of what would become Lake Erie Nature & Science Center, she probably couldn’t foresee how far its branches would spread.

In 2011, as she snapped a photo of her daughters smiling below a spreading fir tree, Center education program specialist Maggie Watson (nee Gibbons) took a moment to reflect on the Center’s enduring legacy and how it had touched the lives of her family.

It was as a sophomore at Magnificat High School in the mid-1990s that young Maggie Gibbons first connected with the Center.

“I loved animals,” she enthused, “and having grown up on 25 acres of farmland in Avon, nature was in my blood. So when I needed to complete a service project requirement, I knew that Lake Erie Nature & Science Center would be the perfect fit.”

In the 1990s, just like today, the Center’s teen volunteer program was in great demand and Gibbons was delighted to be awarded the last spot in that season’s volunteer group. As an afterschool classroom assistant, she helped kids connect with the outdoors through hiking, stream stomping, and exploring the natural world. In 1996, her group even gave out tiny fir tree saplings to program participants, one of which made its way back to the Gibbons’ Avon family home.

Driven to learn as much as possible about the wildlife she worked with regularly, Gibbons headed to the University of Dayton and emerged with a biology degree in hand.

“Coming back home to help out at the Center during breaks was one of the highlights of my college life, and it really helped me to realize that I didn’t just want to work with kids or animals, I wanted to find a career in which I could help to forge a connection between them!”

Over the next few years, Gibbons honed her interpretive skills by working with a variety of domestic and exotic animals at zoos across the country.

“I was able to harness the love for nature and wildlife that was fostered by my years at the Nature Center,” she said, “and bring that passion to kids and adults alike!”

It was in 2007 that Maggie Gibbons, now Maggie Watson, returned to her roots at the Center. Now, as the beloved instructor of such popular programs as Wild Things! for the under-5’s and the upbeat Animals a la Mode, "Miss Maggie" has come full circle, bringing everything she absorbed in her youth at the Center to a new generation.

“The Center’s mission of respecting and embracing the great outdoors truly speaks to me, and I’m proud to carry that vision forward in everything I do both at work and with my own family.”

And it would be hard to find a better, more tangible example of how Lake Erie Nature & Science Center’s mission has touched her life, than to glimpse the large fir tree which still resides at the Gibbons family home. Starting as a sapling 15 years ago, the tree has planted its roots deep and spread it majestic branches for all to enjoy for years to come.

Lake Erie Nature & Science Center sits on the banks of the Porter Creek within the beautiful Huntington Reservation at 28728 Wolf Road in Bay Village. Everyday, the nonprofit Center continues to fulfill its mission to educate and inspire each of us to appreciate the natural universe via a dedicated corps of highly respected educators, passionate volunteers and generous donors.More details about the Center and how you, too, can help carry on its legacy are available at www.lensc.org.

Frank Colosimo

Frank A Colosimo Visitor Experience & Communications Coordinator Lake Erie Nature & Science Center

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Volume 3, Issue 25, Posted 2:50 PM, 12.13.2011