Pierce Cedar Creek Institute Gets Hands-On With Science and Nature

Nestled on 742 acres in Barry County, the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute offers a unique opportunity for families and students to explore the outdoors and learn about the environment.

The institute bills itself as a nature and environmental education center, but it offers so much more. It is an experience. It is an opportunity to wander 9 miles of managed trail winding amidst a plethora of unique biomes from prairies to old growth forests to fen. Much of the interesting geography is leftover from one of Michigan’s historical residents, the Huron Lobe glacier.

Fall Hike Pierce Cedar Creek Institute Prairie
Fall Hike Pierce Cedar Creek Institute Prairie

The great diversity of ecosystems across the acreage is an asset that Pierce Cedar Creek uses to their advantage. A key aspect of their primary mission is to educate and inspire a love and appreciation for science, nature, and the environment.

Where better to do so? Research shows that students are more likely to embrace science as they grow if they participate in hands-on, field-based experiences when they are younger.

The institute offers a wide range of field trips for students, families, and educators from preschool to elementary. Topics range from hibernation in animals to plant and bird life cycles to the physics of motion.

Because of educators like Sara Syswerda, Education and Field Station Director, the institute offers more. They brought their love of nature and science into the community and out of the woods.

In 2014, the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute launched a program called ScienceStrong with the goal of increasing scientific literacy in Hastings students from preschool to high school.

View from Brewster Lake Trail at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute
View from Brewster Lake Trail at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute

Through the ScienceStrong program, students get their hands dirty building, exploring, learning, and experiencing. Did you ever get the chance to build a terrarium when you were in school? One lucky group of students did.

As the program expands, Pierce Cedar Creek staff aim to provide professional development programs for teachers looking to expand their science and nature repertoire, provide financial assistance for field trips and transportation costs, develop after school programs, and more.

Even a nature center as vast as the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute is not safe from plant invaders. Protecting the unique, native ecosystems for visitors and staff alike to enjoy is a full time job and vital to the mission of the institute. It’s a good thing they have the right expertise on hand to combat invasive species. And for good reason: once established, invasive plants will outcompete native plants and destroy the native ecosystem. Vigilance is required.

Stewardship Manager Jen Howell oversees a comprehensive program crewed by both volunteer and staff teams. Among the common invasive species she contends with are multiflora rose, garlic mustard, and the infamous phragmites.

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