The Future of Nature Centers: A View from the Profession
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, College of Natural Resources
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The purpose of this project was to explore what leaders in the nature center profession view as the societal and economic future of nature centers over the next 25 years. The project identified significant trends and developments in regards to staffing, fundraising, physical property, programs and services, organizational governance, and community role of nature centers. The most recent research on the state of American nature centers was conducted in 1989 by the Natural Science for Youth Foundation. This project followed-up on many of the same concepts from that study, but in a modern context. Recent literature indicates that the 2008 economic recession has had a continued impact on the non-profit community. Thus, this study also examined how the recession will be affecting nature center development. This study used a two-part research methodology: a descriptive survey and in-depth interviews. The survey of nature center professions established a broad base of knowledge about the future of nature centers. The interviews of seasoned and emerging leaders in the profession discovered a wide variety of trends and predictions for how nature centers will change. The leaders in the profession emphasized that nature centers must continue to be relevant in an increasingly nature-disconnected society. They also foresee changes to fundraising, an evolution of programming, increasing professionalism, and a strengthening of nature center properties. This research commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Association of Nature Center Administrators (ANCA) by looking ahead to the next 25 years. It also provides recommendations for how ANCA can continue to support the growth of nature centers in the future.