This year marks the 50th anniversary of Sandy Creek Nature Center. In preparation for the year, we’ve looked to the past to see where we started and how far we’ve come. Our start came from a group of citizens in the community that saw a need to protect greenspace and provide a place for people to recreate while learning about the natural environment. Those 12 founders created a legacy that over 55,000 people enjoy each year..
We’ve gone from a property with no buildings & dirt roads to multiple buildings with award winning exhibits. With only 2 staff members which grew to five full time staff, three part time, twelve camp staff in the summer and many active volunteers. At one point in the early days they had only $12 in the bank. Now our yearly budget is over $500,000. When the center was started, it was run by a nonprofit. In 1980 the facility was turned over to the county parks department because of the day to day costs it takes to run such a facility. Fortunately, we still have a nonprofit, Sandy Creek Nature Center Inc., to support us financially as well as a voice for us when we can’t speak up as government employees. The Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services provides our day to day operational budget but Inc. has provided funding for many projects over the years, including most recently our Nature Playscape that was built using donations and none of the center’s budget or taxpayer dollars.
What has led to the success of the center? People. The original founders’ enthusiasm recruited new people with drive and a vision to see the potential of what this place could be. Long term support from these founders and volunteers has been felt in many ways since the start. Although many of the founders have passed on, their families still support us today by visiting our facility, attending programs, volunteering and financial donations. Parents that brought their children to the center when it first opened the grounds are now grandparents and their children have children of their own. The key to thriving in the future is to continue bringing the next generation and building that connection with them so they will bring their future children and grandchildren to the center over the next 50 years.
I have been fortunate to be part of Sandy Creek for almost 19 years. Over that time, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several of the founders and build relationships with them. I’ve met previous staff that helped create our facilities and programs that are still popular today. Working for so long at one facility has given me many opportunities to learn and grow. From working on our exhibit renovation to creating a managed forest, planning and teaching thousands of programs, speaking with over a million people (my estimation based on visitation and number of years working) about Sandy Creek, I hope that I can say that I’ve left a mark on the center in a positive way just as our founders did 50 years ago.