By Eliza Guion—
MUNCIE, IN—This fall, Ball Brothers Foundation took a group of eleven grantees on a special trip to Leland, Michigan where the foundation hosted a “Northern Michigan Summit.” For several days, the group explored the intersection of outdoor recreation and education, specifically the value of outdoor learning in the lives of children and young adults. The group stayed at the historic Leland Lodge and had the opportunity to meet BBF board members who live in the Leland area, an area where generations of Ball family members spent summers.
While attending the Summit, members of the Indiana group met their counterparts from like-minded organizations in Michigan.
Indiana organizations participating included:
- Muncie Community Schools
- Red-tail Land Conservancy
- Cardinal Greenway
- Burris Laboratory School
- Camp Crosley
- Daleville Community Schools
- BSU Environmental Education
- Ball State University
Michigan organizations included:
- TART Trails
- Inland Seas
- Leelanau Conservancy
- Leelanau Outdoor Center
- The Children’s House
- Interlochen Arts Academy
- Leo Creek Preserve
- Boardman River Nature Center
Together, the groups visited nature preserves, saw children learning in schools that put outdoor learning at the heart of their curriculum, and even had their own hands-on learning adventures. The trip was designed to spark new ideas, innovation, collaboration, and to create new “peer” connections.
Sarah Milligan-Toffler, President & CEO of Children and Nature Network served as keynote speaker for the Northern Michigan Summit hosted by Ball Brothers Foundation. Children and Nature Network works to create ‘green schoolyards,’ to incorporate meaningful nature play spaces into parks and public spaces, and to promote the critical role of free play in nature.
The group enjoyed visiting The Children’s House, a Montessori school in Traverse City that puts outdoor learning at the heart of its educational philosophy. The school’s outdoor playgrounds are infused with nature play elements and the learning environment is carefully designed to capitalize on children’s natural desire to explore, cultivating intelligence through purposeful, independent, and interesting work.
While in Traverse City, the group also made a stop at Boardman River Nature Center which was built in 2008 on the banks of the Boardman River. The Nature Center is adjacent to a 505-acre living laboratory which hosts a nature-based preschool, homeschool programs, school field trips, an extremely popular nature day camp, and more. A new nature playground recently constructed on site inspired the teachers, school administrators, and nature preschool guides in the group.
Additionally, the group enjoyed spending time at Leo Creek Preserve, an outdoor learning laboratory, nature preserve, and botanical garden steeped in learning, peace, and respite in Suttons Bay, Michigan. Beginning in the 1980s, every day, no matter the weather, kids from the local Montessori schools would race from their classrooms into the woods where they played in the creek. They sat on its bank eating lunch, telling stories, dipping their toes in the cool clear water, wading on the sandy bottom, and balancing on fallen logs. They formed alliances and made peace, learned to negotiate, resolve conflicts, and made lifelong friends.
Perched on a 300-foot bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, surrounded by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and boasting 2500 feet of beach frontage is the Leelanau Outdoor Center, another site visited during the Northern Michigan Summit. The LOC was established nearly two decades ago by a group of local schoolteachers who saw a need for quality outdoor and character education. Today, the LOC hosts nearly 3,000 students from across Michigan for 1-5 day programs with overnight cabin accommodations on site. It was exciting to show the site to friends from Camp Crosley and inspired the group to think about the potential for Muncie Community Schools’ Camp Adventure.
The Summit group also enjoyed hearing about a multi-phase effort underway in Northern Michigan to create mountain bike trails that will eventually span 14 miles through a majestic forest reserve that already offers miles of hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. The incredible collaboration between TART Trails, Norte, and Leelanau Conservancy (all based in the Traverse City area) reminded the group that recreation, economic development, wellness, and outdoor adventuring are complimentary and are key to quality of life.
Another exciting highlight of the trip was a sailing adventure on Lake Michigan in partnership with Inland Seas Educational Association. The group boarded one of Inland Seas’ traditionally rigged tall ship schooners, where participants learned about the organization’s work to inspire a lifetime of Great Lakes curiosity, stewardship, and passion in people of all ages. In addition to beautiful views, the group was motivated to think about ways to provide hands-on learning experiences for students in Delaware County using the rivers, streams, reservoirs, and lakes that are plentiful in East Central Indiana.
Over a decade ago, Ball Brothers Foundation staff read the book “The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv. In response, the foundation adopted a special grantmaking initiative called “Outdoor Pursuits” that was designed to strengthen outdoor recreation and nature education in and around Muncie. Since then, the foundation has helped build-out nature play spaces adjacent to childcare centers, supported the growth of MCS’ Camp Adventure, helped fund the creation of a nature preschool program, and more. As the foundation plans for the future, experiences at the Northern Michigan Summit helped lay the groundwork for thinking about how Ball Brothers Foundation’s grantmaking strategies might further evolve to build on this momentum and bolster the existing outdoor education opportunities and experiences in Delaware County.