Published May 17, 2020
By Joe Wojtas
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Mystic — The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center has been able to continue offering its educational programs online in part due to the generosity of organizations that had previously agreed to sponsor now-canceled events.
The COVID-19 pandemic could have severely impacted the nature center budget, as its major source of revenue is its in-person educational programs for children and adults. That revenue in turn supports other center activities such as caring for its animals and its Giving Garden, which provides tons of fresh produce each year to the needy.
The center, though, has been shut down since March 20 and had to furlough its hourly workers, leaving nine salaried employees to care for animals and grounds and run programs.
Davnet Conway Schaffer, the center’s executive director, said the center was concerned that the cancellation of all its programs due to Gov. Ned Lamont’s shutdown order “would cause real damage to our budget.”
Luckily, Conway Schaffer said, several event sponsors and multiple grantors told the center it could use their funds to support online programming.
“It allows us to do our educational outreach and present content, just in a different way,” added Cassandra Meyer-Ogren, the center’s director of marketing and communications.
So on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays at 10 a.m. the center offers a free educational event on Facebook Live and then adds the videos to its YouTube channel. In addition, it is presenting online learning for area schools that had to cancel field trips.
Among the contributors to the programming have been Aquarion Water Co. and StoneRidge Retirement Community, both of which sponsor the center’s annual Celebrate Earth programs in April. They said the center could use their funding to support the Facebook Live events. Other organizations that offered similar approval to support online learning were Nordson, Pfizer, Veolia/New London Water Authority, Mystic Garden Club, Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, Dominion, Eightmile River Watershed, and the Stonington Garden Club.
Meyer-Ogren said the online programs have been extremely popular, with an average of 1,000 people tuning in for each episode. Viewers have come from across the country and as far away as Europe.
Topics have ranged from “All About Foxes” and “Vernal Pool Exploration” to “Identifying Poison Ivy.”
The nature center is also a popular location for school field trips each spring. With schools closed, the center has used grants to create online programming using Zoom and Google Classroom. Classes have included “Beavers as Engineers” for second graders in Groton, “Pond Life in the Eightmile River Watershed” for fifth graders in Salem, “Animal Adaptations” for third graders in East Haddam and “Owls” for students at the Hampshire Country School in New Hampshire.
The center is also presenting fee-based online programs such as early childhood education classes and gardening classes with Craig Floyd, who runs the Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center and the Giving Garden. A list of online programs can be found at dpnc.org/calendar/.
The center also plans to open its summer camps for children on June 21. Meyer-Ogren said the center will adjust to guidelines and cleaning protocols as they are released but pointed out campers are outdoors much of the time.