Carol Nicholas, Anne Demarais, Pam Mount, Teresita Bastides-Heron, Tauna Falk and Nate Falk gather at the Lawrence Nature Center 10-year anniversary celebration Oct. 25, 2014. Nicholas, Mount and Demarais were recognized with certificates, and Tauna and Nate Falk accepted a certificate on behalf of their son, Garrett Falk, who was recognized for his work on a butterfly garden at the nature center as a member of Boy Scout Troop 183. (Photo by Stacey Pastorella.)

Lawrence Nature Center celebrates decade anniversary

Since June 2010, signs at the township’s borders have identified Lawrence as a place “where nature smiles for 22 miles.” Included within those borders is the Lawrence Nature Center, which celebrated its 10th anniversary with an event held at the center on Oct. 25.

The anniversary celebration, hosted by the Friends of the Lawrence Nature Center, reflected on the history of the nature center and honored residents and community leaders for their contributions to its development.

The Lawrence Nature Center, located on 45 acres of land at 481 Drexel Ave., was dedicated on April 25, 2004. It includes 37 acres of the Drexel Woods, and the former home of Carl and Lucille Rinck, all of which was purchased by the township in 1998. The township allocated funds for the development of the nature center in 2002.

At the event, The Friends of the Lawrence Nature Center honored more than 30 people for their contributions, including a number of young volunteers, many of whom belonged to local boy and girl scout troops. Also honored were the township’s director of public works, Gregory Whitehead, and superintendent of recreation, Steve Groeger. Former township officials, William Guhl and Pam Mount, were also recognized.

As part of the celebration, Mercer County Freeholder Pat Colavita presented the Lawrence Nature Center with a proclamation of honor.

Lawrence resident Rick Dutko, who serves as the naturalist for the Friends of the Lawrence Nature Center, has contributed to the center from the beginning. In fact, he remembers attending town council meetings to advocate for the purchase of the property where it would one day be established.

Dutko, a wildlife biologist, said that his experiences growing up near the Shabakunk Creek had a great impact on his career decision.

“Back then, it was much different for a child. There were no electronics. I spent most of my childhood outside exploring in nature,” he said in a telephone interview.

As a parent, Dutko has served as a chaperone on his children’s school trips, some of which brought students to destinations like the Philadelphia Zoo and Sandy Hook. He hopes that the Lawrence Nature Center will serve as a place for local students to visit and experience nature.

“We have this little gem right here in our own township,” Dutko said.

As naturalist, Dutko has contributed to the research and educational components of the nature center. He has led events such as hikes and has spoken on topics like plant life and ecological systems. His children have also been involved in projects at the center, Dutko said.

Anne Demarais, president of the Friends of the Lawrence Nature Center, spoke about the history of the center, and the contributions it has received from the community.

“The building is bricks and mortar, but the life force and energy of the center is fluid as the Friends and their talents change through the years,” she said.

Demarais, a resident of Lawrence, said that her enjoyment of nature has been linked to social experiences, such as hiking and spending time with knowledgeable friends. Throughout the years, she has worked on trails at the center, and has also played a role in the center’s art night events.

During her address at the event, Demarais shared her hopes for the future of the nature center.

“What will the next 10 years bring? Some change is inevitable, but with any luck at all, the center will still be humming with activities that continue to fulfill our mission to provide programs that develop knowledge, respect and love of the natural world,” she said.

Demarais and Dutko were honored at the Oct. 25 event, as was Carol Nicholas, the first president of the Friends of the Lawrence Nature Center.

The Lawrence Nature Center hosts events throughout the year, which have included a Mother Nature Festival in May and weekly summer family nights in July and August.

The Friends of the Lawrence Nature Center is an organization of volunteers from the local community. New volunteers are welcome, especially those with backgrounds in nature or education, Dutko said.

One long-term goal, he said, is for there to be staff members in place to operate the nature center on a regular basis.

In a separate telephone interview, Demarais also expressed the hope that the nature center would eventually see more use.

“It is a place of beauty,” she said. “The more programs we have there, the more I think that people will be able to pick up on one thing or another that will appeal to them.”

At a nature center program last summer, a girl scout presented on the topics of geocaching and reading compasses. Another young participant shared a presentation about nature. Demarais said that those kinds of experiences are especially gratifying.

“To pass on the love of nature, and a place to be, is such a wonderful thing,” she said.

For more information about the Lawrence Nature Center, go online to lawrencenaturecenter.net.