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Auburn University celebrating 30 years of Kreher Preserve and Nature Center

Auburn University’s Kreher Preserve and Nature Center is commemorating its 30th anniversary with a yearlong celebration in 2023. Among the events planned to mark this milestone are a photo contest, a summer camp, Forest Friends reunions and a 30th anniversary social.

“For 30 years, the Kreher Preserve and Nature Center has been enhancing the lives of the Auburn community, creating a haven for wildlife and providing a platform for outreach and education to Auburn University students,” said Janaki Alavalapati, dean of the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment. “This gift of land has provided thousands of students and local families with unique and invaluable experiences.”

The Kreher Preserve and Nature Center, or KPNC, began with a gift of forest land from Louise Kreher Turner and her husband, Frank Allan Turner, to what was then known as Auburn University’s School of Forestry. The Turners wished to see their 119 acres, nestled in the heart of Auburn at 2222 N. College St., remain an intact nature preserve and become a source of environmental education. Its students would be the Auburn community, welcoming everyone to study, appreciate and enjoy the natural world.

After donating the land to Auburn University in 1993, Turner developed its first public programming around 1998 and continued to manage the property through 2000 as the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve. In 2001, management shifted to a volunteer-run outreach program by the preserve’s coordinator, Margaret Holler — who still enjoys working in the KPNC’s many gardens — under the direction of Richard Brinker, former dean of what then became the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

In 2007, the school hired Jennifer Lolley, a 1986 Auburn University graduate, as the first full-time administrator to help further develop the land and its availability as an outreach resource. Under her tireless and enthusiastic management, the preserve became fully accessible to the public seven days a week, year-round.

As programming expanded under Lolley’s guidance, she noticed a gap between public perception and what the property offered to the public.

“The word ‘preserve’ caused some confusion,” said Jamie Anderson, the college’s manager of communications. “People understood that it was a conservation area but didn’t necessarily feel welcomed.”

A rebranding effort in 2015 changed the name from Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve to the Kreher Preserve and Nature Center with the hope that “nature center” better reflected the variety of experiences available there. The new, shorter name also ensured that the Kreher name continued to be associated with Louise Kreher Turner’s gift.

In 2009, KPNC volunteer and Auburn University alumna Sarah Crim founded Forest Friends, the first of the preserve’s nature education programs for children and caregivers. The program has since blossomed into classes for toddlers, Tree Tots and infants, Nature Babies, collectively known as the “Nurtured in Nature” series. In 2019, Crim proposed expanding their early childhood offerings to an innovative outdoor nature preschool.

Along with Lolley and KPNC manager Michael Buckman, Crim consulted and collaborated with faculty from the early childhood department at Auburn to develop pedagogy and curriculum. The Woodland Wonders Preschool is in its fourth year and still works closely with the Auburn University College of Education to provide learning opportunities for students.

Beyond its unique environmental education programs for children, the KPNC offers a full spectrum of low-cost educational programs and workshops for adults and families such as crafts, gardening and camping skills.

“We hope the community will come out and celebrate with us this year,” Buckman said. “We will be hosting anniversary events each season, along with a myriad of fun and exciting activities as we look back at the first 30 years of the KPNC and look forward to what the next 30 will bring.”

The anniversary celebration kicked off in March with a photo contest that will run through August. Photos may be submitted through KPNC’s social media platforms or online.

Awards will be given in four categories: people, wildlife, landscapes and history. Winning photos will be displayed in the new environmental education center slated to be constructed later this year.

On April 15, the KPNC held a reunion for all students, teachers and caregivers who participated in the Forest Friends and Tree Tots programs. The new pond pavilion, completed this past winter, will hold a ribbon cutting and grand opening on May 4, and a reunion for past camp attendees will take place July 15.

The celebration will conclude with a 30th anniversary social on Nov. 2. Follow the Kreher Preserve and Nature Center on Facebook or Instagram for updates about the anniversary celebration, as well as nature education events and programs.

(Written by Jessica Nelson)

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