The Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC) recently received the Environmental Sustainability Award from the Knox County Chamber of Commerce, its first time being presented with this honor. This award — commemorated with a trophy — acknowledges the BFEC’s successful conservation and protection of the natural landscape, and the beauty of the sights the center has to offer.
Each year, the Knox County Chamber of Commerce nominates and selects the Knox County business or organization they believe has most contributed to introducing, implementing and promoting sustainable practices. Recent recipients of this award have been Fredericktown Local Schools and Replex Plastics.
The last time the Brown Family Environmental Center received an award from the Knox County Chamber of Commerce was in 1998, when it accepted the Heart Award, which honors local individuals, businesses or organizations that restore or enhance the county’s architectural heritage.
Spanning over 600 acres of conserved land, the BFEC offers a number of different opportunities for all members of the Knox County community to explore the natural landscape. Eleven miles of trails are open to the public, and the center regularly hosts a number of free events and workshops, such as wildflower walks and outdoor yoga classes. Special upcoming events include an Earth Day festival and a book discussion and signing by Bartow Elmore, author of Monsanto’s Past and Our Food Future.
The Brown Family Environmental Center also plays an integral role in providing educational and community-building experiences at Kenyon. Students visit the center each semester to engage more intimately with class material and to pursue research projects. While students enrolled in biology and ecology courses are the most frequent visitors, professors from a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, drawing and English, incorporated the BFEC in their lesson plans this past fall. Many departments at the College often partner with the BFEC to plan community events, such as the upcoming Where the Wild Things Run 5k trail run, hosted by the BFEC and Kenyon’s Department of Athletics. “While it’s not overtly sustainability, it leads to potential sustainability practices for the people who participate,” said Noelle Jordan, manager of the BFEC.
Jordan notes that one of the BFEC’s most significant contributions to Knox County as a whole is its elementary school field trips. Designed to help teachers meet some of the state’s science standards, these programs introduce students to state-required course material in an environment that is immersive and hands-on. The BFEC offers one program for each grade every semester, and teachers can choose when to bring their students to the center to participate.
“We’re facilitating experiences that allow children to start to develop a relationship with the natural world and giving them a sense of place, teaching them about the plants and the animals and the ecosystems that might be in their backyard,” said Jordan. One of the most popular programs is the Habitat Hop, which allows kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade students to explore four different habitats to learn about each of their plants, animals and ecosystems. Programs for older students include the opportunity to learn about soil and composting, as well as lessons about the importance of local watersheds, where students can conduct chemical and biological testing of streams to determine how healthy the water is.
These field trips are fully funded by the BFEC, which has led to a sizable increase in outreach. While teachers and students previously had to pay for transportation to the BFEC and each student was asked to pay a $2 fee, donations contributed by a number of Kenyon alumni and Knox County residents have enabled the center to reimburse teachers and students for the cost of transportation and allow free participation in these programs as recently as 2019.
While the BFEC was originally serving around 800 to 1000 elementary school students each year, those numbers are now closer to 1300 students a year, according to Jordan, largely in part to the removal of these financial barriers. It was primarily these efforts that led to Knox County Chamber of Commerce’s decision to grant the BFEC this award.
Jordan hopes that the BFEC being this year’s recipient of the Environmental Sustainability Award will help promote the organization’s sustainability and conservation efforts. “We’re busy doing the work that we’re supposed to be doing,” Jordan said. “Having this award just helps to demonstrate that to everyone who cares about the BFEC.”