January 16th, 2021

Great outdoors an asset to Helen Schuler Nature Centre

By Woodard, Dale on August 5, 2020.

A Get Outside 101 activity sign placed by the Helen Schuler Nature Centre is seen on one of the many paths at Indian Battle Park near the Nature Centre. Photo submitted by Helen Schuler Nature Centre

Dale Woodard

Lethbridge Herald


A-s the COVID-19 pandemic has affected some local businesses, the Helen Schuler Nature Centre has been able to take it outside.

A little over a month ago, the facility in the coulees was able to reopen its building and offer some indoor learning.

But before that, the Helen Schuler Nature Centre offered its clientele plenty of fun and facts on the trails around the facility.

“The Nature Centre is kind of a unique facility in Lethbridge in that only part of our work happens in the facility,” said Coreen Putman, manager of the Helen Schuler Nature Centre. “So being a nature centre, people know we do a lot of stuff out in nature. At that time we looked at it that only a portion of our operations were closed with the building being closed.”

When public facilities got the word from the province in mid-March to shut down, Putman said the staff at the centre turned their attention to adding more interpretive opportunities outside in the parks.

“So we noticed, like everywhere else in the world, that people were looking to go outside more,” she said. “We had some decent weather back then, so the parks were quite busy. We engaged in a number of different pop-up installations for signage and outdoor display activity. We were encouraging more activities and things for people to do outside. Then our programmers switched gears and started offering some digital audio/video and those types of assets as well, which were really well received.”

What’s better, those resources are reusable and have kept the outdoor activities rolling into the summer.

“We’re really fortunate that we have an amazing team of very creative people,” said Putman. “We tried to create a number of resources and assets that could be reused. So we’re actually finding now a lot of those resources we’ve developed have been re-used in multiple different ways that we couldn’t have even imagined.”

One example is a program called Get Outside 101, promoting the benefits of being outside and providing ideas for fun activities.

“They were fun, really simple, and with no additional resources required that families with young children could do outside. It might be like how to make your own nature scavenger hunt or playing a fun counting game using nature. They were almost like a Pinterest-style sheet that would give people ideas of things to do outside.

“That resource has been redeveloped into a series of brochures that have been distributed to families in Lethbridge through the Mindful Munchies program, which is a program where there are number of social service agencies helping families through the food banks with activities that are very low resource. They don’t require a lot of additional input to be able to do them. So it’s ideas for the outdoors.”

Digital assets have also been redeployed in outdoor signage, said Putman.

“So people will find some of these fun activities as they are on the trail in Indian Battle Park. We also have them in the Lethbridge Nature Reserve and we have a few of our volunteers who offered to be sign ambassadors. So they’re deploying some of that signage in pocket parks around neighbourhoods. It’s an example of one asset we created that was a digital asset that has now been used multiple times.”

The province announced Stage 1 of its relaunch strategy in May and on June 17 the Helen Schuler Nature Centre was able reopen its indoor experience.

“It’s been great,” said Putman. “We were a little bit nervous at the onset because the parks were so busy we had to limit the occupancy just to ensure we could have that physical distancing inside. So we were a little nervous we might be almost too busy. But it has been perfect.”

Putman said there have been a few days where the centre reached its 15-person capacity indoors, but there haven’t been many instances where people had to wait outside.

“There were a couple times where somebody had to wait maybe five or 10 minutes, but it’s a beautiful and scenic place to stand,” she said. “We also spent time developing some fun and creative activities for families if they do have to wait for a bit. We noticed we’ve had visitors that maybe aren’t interested in coming into the indoor experience at this time, but they will come up to the building and they’ll go through and do the activities as a fun thing.”

The owl exhibit has been a popular facet indoors.

“We’ve had to modify our exhibit from what people in the past would expect,” said Putman. “Our exhibit might have a lot of puppets or masks, things we’ve had to move temporarily. But there are still fun and engaging activities. There’s a very popular scavenger hunt that kids can take for all the different types of owls and the different visuals of owls that are in the exhibits. The exhibits are as popular as they’ve ever been.”

Last Monday, Lethbridge City Council passed a motion requiring masks to be worn in public areas of City facilities. The rule will officially go into effect on Friday for Helen Schuler and other City facilities.

“Currently the masks are not required, but with the passing of council’s recent resolution comes into play that will change at the time,” said Putman. “But right now people are welcome to wear masks. Most of our staff choose to wear them to model them being worn. But at all times we’re able to maintain the two-metre distance.”

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