Nature Center finding a way to survive during the pandemic

Nature Center suffering declines in attendance but finding a way to survive

Versión en español

While the Covid-19 pandemic has decreased the visitors this past year at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, its director this week said, “we’re hanging in there.”

When the center is in full operation, it attracts up to 15,000 visitors annually -- guests and children who participate in its programs. In October, when the nature center reopened to the public, there were 20 visitors. In December, 18 visitors.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center Director Theo Long

As the center approached the end of a challenging year, executive director Theodora Long sent a message to members of the center asking for a simple request: Renew annual memberships.

“Your support right now is valuable at any level,” she stated. “But if you are able to increase your financial commitment, that is especially needed and appreciated.”

The center remains committed to forging deep connections between the community and the natural environment.

“We believe, and numerous studies confirm, that exposure to nature provides powerful benefits for mind, body and soul,” Long said. “The more time we spend in nature, the more we grow to cherish it and advocate for its protection.”

In the last nine months, while so much came to a halt, “our natural world was uninterrupted,” she added. “The 165-acre Bear Cut Preserve experienced an astounding resurgence of marine and terrestrial wildlife populations at the north end of Crandon Park.”

The center has had no business since March 15 when Crandon Park closed. The nature center reopened in October to allow guests to visit, but business is slow.

Admission is free, so the visitors themselves don’t bring in an income. And while school tours bring revenue, Long said Miami-Dade public schools aren’t allowing children to go on field trips for the remainder of the school year.

“Our business won’t get going again until September,” she said. “I think people are still wary about getting together. “We just sent out another email blast talking about what we’re offering.

“We’ll probably have summer camp, and that will help us a little bit. We had summer camp last year, virtually. We had a group from Overtown on Zoom. We mailed them all the supplies weekly, from paints, crayons, beach balls and funny sunglasses. During the week, they used all the supplies they would use for activities. We had 30 children in the camp.”

With a $650,000 annual operating budget that goes toward items including salaries, upkeep of the nature center, supplies and the gift shop, Long said the center has stayed afloat through a PPE loan, funding through Florida CARES Act, grants and donations. And they continue to ask people to renew memberships.

The nature center has been able to keep its three full-time employees, Long said. Fifteen tour guides – independent contractors from universities including the University of Miami and Florida International University – were furloughed.

Despite the year of cutbacks, the nature center has recently resumed hosting its most popular outdoor expedition, the Family Seagrass Adventure.

“Everyone will get excited with our catch and release program exploring the Seagrass Beds,” Long said. “You can schedule your own two-hour tour. Wear your mask and we will all follow the CDC distancing guidelines for a worry-free adventure.”

Prior to the coronavirus, Long said the nature center was accustomed to having to turn people away.

“Our field trips and family programming were our bread and butter,” she said. “That’s what kept the nature center going, and kept people loving nature – learning and loving what’s in their backyard,” falling in love with the environment and protecting it.


What to know:

Nature Center suffering big declines, but finding a way to survive

The nature center is open to the public from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. seven days a week, with limited capacity to the gallery and exhibit museum. The center is located at 6767 Crandon Blvd.

- Facial covering is required.

- Social distancing is practiced.

- The gift shop is closed until further notice.

- To renew or signup for an annual membership, click here

Visit online at biscaynenaturecenter.org for more information.

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