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Audubon View

Not long ago the biggest draw to a section of the Scioto River, just ten minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio, was the city’s auto impoundment lot. The beauty and value of the river and the surrounding natural areas were lost to the community amid acres of polluted landfill, pavement, and industrial blight.

This month people will return in droves to celebrate the area’s rebirth. Years of effort by Audubon, the City of Columbus, Franklin County Metro Parks, local businesses, and area residents have transformed the former eyesore into an 84-acre urban oasis where birds and wildlife can again thrive and local residents can reconnect with nature and their community. Eventually the park complex will grow to 160 acres.

The newly completed Grange Insurance Audubon Center serves as the area’s centerpiece and the gateway to understanding and conserving a natural jewel. As the state’s first inner-city nature center, it is expected to attract thousands of people of all ages from across Columbus’s ethnically and racially diverse neighborhoods. Economically disadvantaged children from nearby schools have long taken part in education and habitat restoration at the site; now they will have a permanent place to strengthen their ties to nature and science.

The views from the Center are striking. To the north, the Columbus skyline looms over restored wetlands filled with egrets and great blue herons, replacing the parking lots and abandoned warehouses that once dominated the vista. Looking south, nature trails weave through trees, coves, and other streamside habitat vital to the health of migratory birds and the river itself. Legions of volunteers have pulled invasive weeds and replaced them with native plants. And, as further testament to the recovery of local ecosystems, dragonflies are returning.

Inside, the 18,000-square-foot nature center puts the outdoor experience into context around the theme of the “Nature of Change.” A giant suspended model bird and a complex streamside habitat exhibit reflect the seasons to showcase nature’s changing rhythms. Signage and educational programs reinforce the role people play in transforming their environment.

Soon to be LEED-certified, the environmentally friendly structure highlights energy savings and other features that reduce human impact on the environment. A plant-filled green roof, special gutters, and permeable surfaces keep storm-water runoff out of the nearby river, while educational displays explain how this contributes to the Scioto’s water quality.

“It will provide hands-on educational exposure to nature for city kids who would otherwise never get it,” says Grange Insurance Company CEO Phil Urban, who chaired the Center’s successful $14 million fund-raising campaign. He says that exposure to nature and science can boost educational achievement, help break the cycle of poverty, and show that “nature and the city can stand together.”

Urban’s company earned its place in the Center’s name for both its $4 million gift and its conviction that partnerships have the power to make a difference. The American Electric Power Company, Franklin County, and Limited Brands also provided major support.

Thanks to committed allies working together, the Grange Insurance Audubon Center is beginning to alter the future in Columbus. What was once an area to avoid is now a destination where the seeds of stewardship will be planted to grow among a community that reflects America’s diversity and promise. To learn more, visit grange.audubon.org.

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