With over nine miles of trails and unique habitats to explore throughout the seasons, it is hard to come by a getaway more convenient and inviting than the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC). In addition to its stunning natural beauty, the BFEC is a hub for community involvement, educational opportunities and recreational activities, hosting an abundance of events for students and community members alike. With its convenient location just off of Laymon Road (for access, travel West on Wiggin Street, then cross state Route 259), the BFEC is just a quick walk away for those open to discovering a treasure trove of new experiences with nature.
According to Kenyon’s brief history of the BFEC, the center opened in 1995 as a way to conserve the natural diversity of Ohio’s landscape. Initially named the Kenyon Center for Environmental Study (and changed in 1999 with a generous donation in honor of former Kenyon provost, Robert Brown), the BFEC takes a proactive approach to supporting a healthy ecosystem. Ohio was once lush with forests covering nearly the whole state, but, by the 1900s, rapid settlement and westward expansion left the Buckeye State with only 10% of the greenery it once had. However, extensive conservation efforts around the state, including that of the BFEC (which oversees over 610 acres of land), have increased that number to 33%, with optimistic visions of future growth.
Claire Haynes ’23, a BFEC post-baccalaureate fellow, shared insights from her ongoing work with the BFEC. As a fellow — a role designated to one graduate every year — her job is to “lead environmental education programs with children and families, work with Kenyon classes, help with land management and plan our big events—the Harvest and Earth Day festivals.” Her life is surrounded by nature — she lives and works on the BFEC property and frequently takes runs on the trails. Haynes is appreciative of the ecosystems the BFEC provides, writing: “It fills my daily life with more texture — even on my two-minute walk to work in the morning I find myself more tuned in to things.” And with 14 trails and a burgeoning ecosystem to explore, the BFEC makes it easy to be in harmony with nature.
Before becoming a fellow, Haynes worked at Kenyon’s Office for Community Partnerships. She noted, “The BFEC serves the community as well as Kenyon, so in some ways, this role feels like an extension of that previous work.” As a Modern Languages and Literature major and Anthropology minor, Haynes did not have the chance to study the natural sciences as much as she would have liked during her time as a student. But as a fellow, she has found the opportunity to engage more fully with this interest. Currently, she is undertaking research to develop a field guide on the trees of the BFEC. “I have really enjoyed becoming familiar with the trees and the ecosystems they rely on and support,” she wrote.
Haynes’ appreciation of nature is further reflected in her enthusiasm for her work: “I really enjoy working with student groups… when I have students who come from cities or places with limited green spaces tell me that they really enjoyed their experience outside here, whether that be through a program, volunteering or just a walk, it makes me so happy.” At the heart of the BFEC’s conservation strategy is their devotion to educating others, especially through programming with Knox County elementary schools (a program that current Kenyon students can get involved with as well), where young students can learn to appreciate and better understand nature’s importance. Haynes says the hands-on work that the BFEC provides and her work with the kids has helped her explore this interest further, and added that she gets a boost from students whose “curiosity and wonder I find to be contagious.” She extended this enthusiasm toward campus organizations, adding that “If your student group is interested in partnering with us for a program, please don’t hesitate to reach out!”
Everybody is welcome to enjoy the trails and wildlife that the BFEC manages and is encouraged to engage with the programming and events that they offer. But as with any other preserve, make sure to be mindful of nature’s wonders by staying on the trails, respecting wildlife and leaving no trace! Whether you are an avid outdoorsman or just someone needing a break from Kenyon’s hustle and bustle, taking a trip to the BFEC is a fantastic way to rejuvenate the spirit.