Pandemic offers Brukner challenge to get creative


TROY — While the pandemic has presented Brukner Nature Center with challenges, it’s also given the center an opportunity to get creative with programming.

“Obviously, we haven’t been able to do most of our programming that we typically would do. We have all of our school groups that have pretty well been canceled, we’ve had a few here or there, and we typically do a senior scientist program where we go to senior homes and do our program for them — we haven’t been able to do since last March,” Brian Ayres, director of operations at Brukner Nature Center, said.

While many of the center’s programs that usually run throughout the year have been canceled, Ayres said that a few programs were able to continue with some changes made in regard to pandemic safety. Summer camps for school-aged children have continued at Brukner, as well as the homeschooled nature club programs that are held once a month. One of the biggest changes was smaller group sizes to make social distancing easier, and one of the most positive changes was getting back outside for a first-hand experience with nature.

“It’s actually turned out to be a good thing because it has gotten the kids outside more often, and we find that we can do our animal talks and things like that outside, just as easily as we were doing things inside,” Ayres said. “You think for three, 4- and 5-year-olds that’d be tough, but they really love being outside. Some of them don’t get that opportunity.”

Another change in programming came with the creation of the Backyard Wildlife Chat program. First introduced in spring 2020, for a program fee and mileage, Brukner Nature Center will send two wildlife ambassadors with props anywhere within 30 miles of the center for a socially-distanced outdoor program for up to 10 participants. The program was created as a means to stay in touch with members of the center as well as the community and keep the wildlife education Brukner is known for going. According to Ayres, the program was a success and is something the center is interested in continuing if the interest continues.

“The group that we went to really seemed to enjoy it, and they felt like it gave them a chance to experience something when many of them had just been at home for so long,” Ayres said. “It gave them that feeling of being out and seeing things again, and yet they were still able to stay home and be in a safe environment.”

In addition to changing and creating new programs in regard to the pandemic, the center has also utilized the increase in hikers on the trail to its full advantage. Those who visit the center to get out of the house and do something socially distanced and safe will often find the opportunity to participate in a scavenger hunt of sorts. Ayres said that they try to have something new and interactive each month; in January, there were three owl cutouts hidden around the forest that hikers could come across. In February, there are Valentines-type notes placed along Brukner’s river’s edge property with facts about animals in the wintertime that are searching for mates.

“Almost every day, there’s people out here hiking, even when we have poor weather. That wasn’t always the case in the past,” Ayres said. “It’s something that people feel safe and comfortable doing and we have lots of acreage here to spread out on, so there’s plenty of space for everybody to get out here.”

The goal of Brukner remains the same — to educate the public as much as possible about the wildlife around them and the importance of it, and what they can do to help the wildlife. With the pandemic, Ayres said that it’s been an educational experience in learning to adapt as things change.

“We have learned things from it, and our goal through this is to continue to adjust and hopefully implement some things into our permanent future,” Ayres said.

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