WHEELING - Begun in 1970, Earth Day is an effort by environmentally conscious citizens to draw attention to earth issues. Long before Earth Day came into existence, Oglebay Institute's environmental education department was connecting people to the natural world and inspiring individuals to develop and maintain sustainable relationships with the environment.
It all started in 1927 three years before Oglebay Institute was incorporated when famed naturalist and West Virginia's first forester A.B. Brooks came to Oglebay Park. He began to interpret nature, and, along with many volunteers, began creating a trail system through the park. Brooks was also known for his Sunday morning nature walks, which would begin at 7 a.m. At times, about 250 people would show up. By 1930, when Oglebay Institute was officially incorporated, camping programs, nature studies, a Nature Leader's Training School (the first of its kind in the nation) and a nature museum were viable components of the comprehensive nature programming.
In 1954, the A.B. Brooks Nature Center was built to provide shelter to those attending nature programs and to expand offerings in the winter months. In 2000, the Schrader Environmental Education Center opened to the public. Built from 97 percent recycled materials, the Schrader Center is a "green" building and one of the state's first examples of sustainable architecture.
A.B. Brooks is shown leading a nature walk at Oglebay Park.
Annually, more than 40,000 people of all ages celebrate and study the natural world through Schrader Center programs.
According to Eriks Janelsins, Schrader Center director, the Nature Leader's Training School is one of the most significant accomplishments of those early years that still continues today. Programs continue annually at Oglebay Institute's Mountain Nature Camp in Terra Alta, W.Va.
"This innovative program brings educators from around the country to West Virginia to explore and learn teaching methods in a pristine setting full of rare and unusual species," he said. "This 80-year-old program has furthered the education of thousands and serves as a model for environmental and science education."
Mountain Nature Camp is just one of dozens of programs offered each year by the Schrader Center.
The center is more than just a "green" building, Janelsins said, the Schrader Center is "a place where families and individuals can connect with nature." The center holds environmental education classes and activities for people of all ages, and is open year-round to the public.
"One of the things that makes us unique is the variety of things we do," Janelsins said. He mentioned they focus on everything from recycling to studying birds.
Some of the offerings include school programs such as the Regional Environmental Action Program, a multiple day, hands-on ecology programs for 6th grade students; summer nature day camps and junior nature camp; adult discussion courses and clubs such as the Environmental Education Book Club and the Living Green Lecture Series; special events such as Maple Sugaring Day and Eco-Fest; seasonal programs such as nature walks, campfires and astronomy and various biological surveys and life history studies of species native to the region.
Oglebay Institute's Schrader Environmental Education Center celebrates nature every day and encourages good stewardship of the Earth through quality education and research. Facilities include the A.B. Brooks Discovery Trail System, the Children's Awareness Area, the EarthTrek Exhibit Hall, the Nutting Bird Cafe and the Corson Wildflower and Butterfly Garden.
For more information, contact the center at 304-242-6855.