The Wilderness Center in Wilmot, Ohio, is the type of place you need to experience first hand to understand just how special it really is. Whether you are a nature lover looking to bird watch, a parent looking for a fun and educational option to engage your child, or someone who just wants to get out and enjoy a scenic walk, The Wilderness Center has something sure to delight and inspire everyone.
My husband and I love to take walks along the gorgeous trails. My boys have enjoyed TWC’s educational programs like children bird watching and music circles. And TWC’s playscape – a child’s wonderland of outdoor and imaginative play, complete with a mud kitchen and a tee-pee – was absolutely my saving grace during my last pregnancy. I could bring the boys to the playscape and let them run wild and free, playing, creating, and imagining, while I sat on a bench and took it all in and chatted to the other, similarly grateful mommas.
In a word, The Wilderness Center is MAGICAL.
Situated in the southwest corner of Stark County, Ohio, TWC sits on over 600 beautiful acres, and serves “To Connect our Community with Nature, Educate People of All Ages, Conserve Natural Resources, and Practice Environmental Stewardship” (source).
I recently had the opportunity to go for a walk and chat with TWC’s Marketing Manager, Sara Brink. It was a beautiful, Ohio-summer day, and while my two boys and husband enjoyed a picnic lunch in one of the pavilions, Brink and I (and baby Beatrice!) strolled along the Pond Trail as she gave me a better picture of all the incredible programs and services TWC offers.
Recently, TWC added several new education employees, which has allowed them to expand their programming, something that, Brink says, they are really excited about.
The programming at TWC falls under three umbrellas: Sprouts is for preschool age kids; Roots & Branches is family programming for all ages; and Oaks is for adults.
“The adult education program has grown exponentially,” said Brink. Classes on how to forage for wild edibles, nature art classes, or a two week course to become an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist, are just a few of the new offerings for adults.
Families can attend classes where they learn about and explore wetlands, spiders, streams, or prairies. Or, like my family did last week, attend the family birding program!
My kids loved learning about Ohio birds, especially when they got to see the felt cut-outs of each bird and compare how they measured up (We were shocked at just how big the Bald Eagle really is!). Theo looked at a feather under a microscope, and loved getting to hold a pair of binoculars on the group bird walk and checking birds he saw off on his “bird bingo.” Oliver enjoyed walking with Miss Lynda, our educator for the day, and pointing out all that he saw.
The Sprouts program also holds story times and play groups, all with the intention of , as Brink put it, getting kids outside to “Engage in imaginary play, get dirty, and explore.”
But, according to Brink, the “Education programs just scratch the surface of TWC’s mission for conservation and stewardship.”
In addition to the 600 plus acres in Wilmot, TWC owns or manages 4,000 acres in 7 Ohio counties. Some of that land has been donated, while other has been purchased because of it’s high conservation value. TWC also partners with local land owners to do an eco assessment of their land and then come along side the owners to help protect, preserve, and improve the property.
As Sara and I walked, you couldn’t help but notice the noise in The Wilderness Center that day – That loud constant humming, of the 17 year Cicadas. Brink stopped to show me the holes along the path that were made by the Cicadas, where they had burrowed up after growing underground, drinking the sap from trees, for the past 17 years.
This deafening chorus is the Cicadas final party. They emerge, shed their exoskeleton, their wings harden, they fly up into the trees whose roots have been nourishing them for the past 17 years, where they will mate, lay their eggs, and die.
Sara found a Cicada wing next to one of the holes she pointed out to, and picked it up.
This reminder of the natural ebb and flow of life, brought our conversation full circle.
Shortly before we met up for our walk and chat, Sara met with a family to oversee yet another offering of TWC – a nature preserve cemetery. Foxfield Preserve Cemetery is a nonprofit cemetery that provides “An economical, environmentally friendly alternative to modern burial” and where “Nature dominates” (source).
As the manager of Foxfield Preserve Sara, meets with the families who have lost a loved one and oversees the burial. It’s a difficult part of her job description, but one that comes with it’s own benefits, as all of the proceeds from the burial offsets the costs of the nature programs at TWC.
I can go be with a family and cry with them at the grave side, and then I can come back to The Wilderness Center and see the kids and families who are here for our educational programs. I see firsthand how that family’s loss made new life possible. It adds an extra layer of meaning. -Sara Brink
As Sara and I continued on our walk, taking in the towering trees, the beautiful Ohio wild flowers, the sounds of kids laughing and running ahead of families out for a hike, and the chorus of Cicadas all around us, you couldn’t help but be struck by the symbiotic beauty of it all.
TWC in supported by donations and grants, but the proceeds from Foxfield Nature Preserve Cemetery are directly funneled back into funding the education programs. That means every person who chooses to be laid to rest in the Preserve is leaving behind a legacy of not just conservation, but also of education and preservation for future generations.
I asked Brink what her favorite part about working at TWC. She paused for a moment.
My kids think coming to work with mom is so fun. My oldest begs me to take him to work, which is a wonderful feeling. For most of us, seeing the kids get excited and getting to see that on a regular basis is such a good reminder.”
The Wilderness Center is teeming with life: from the plant life; to the friendly geese at the pond; to the Cicadas you can currently hear. The place is running over with newness and growth and an undeniable vibrance. You see kids and families everywhere you turn, playing in the playscape, hiking the trails, or meeting the pet turtle and snakes in the Interpretive Building. TWC is a place to come and explore. A place to get your hands dirty and maybe even your feet wet. It’s a place to learn, and grow, and experience. It’s a place, to love.
To plan your next visit to The Wilderness Center, click here for directions and hours.
For a map of the trails at TWC, click here.
For a list of upcoming events, view the calendar here.
To find out how you can become a member and support conservation and learning at TWC, click here.