Tending the Thurston Nature Center
Neighbors work together to preserve "a neighborhood gem."
Published in August, 2019
Imagine the thrill of arriving at your new home to discover acres of trails, views, wildlife, and a seven-acre pond. That's what happened to Praveena Ramaswami and her husband, Madhan, when they moved into Ann Arbor's northeast Thurston neighborhood seventeen years ago. The Ramaswamis and their two children have enjoyed nature walks and community events at the Thurston Nature Center ever since.
Ramaswami says many people don't know about the nature center because it "is actually inside the neighborhood ... people drive by and they don't know that there is this little magic land in the center of a bunch of houses."
The nature center is a twenty-four acre oasis surrounding Thurston Pond. There are no buildings, only a peaceful trail close to the water's edge. A walk around the pond takes roughly fifteen minutes. Add in thirty more to marvel at the area's oak savannah, rain gardens, prairies, Monarch Butterfly
waystation, and wildlife--or to chat with neighbors also out taking in the sights, sounds, and smells. In the summertime, you may see snapping turtles, egrets, herons, merganser ducks, and other wildlife. Two bird islands, built from sediment dredged from the bottom of the pond in 2015, bring respite to migrating birds.
AAPS teachers, students, and their families, and neighborhood volunteers have been the park's stewards, raising money, participating in pond and landscape improvements, and removing invasive plants. Recent events include a solstice walk in December, a hockey and hot cocoa afternoon in February, and spring wildflower walks.
The Ann Arbor Public Schools and the Orchard Hills Athletic Club pool co-own the nature center, with the OHAC pool on Yorktown Dr. serving as one of its two entrances. The other is on Prairie St.
In 1964, Bill Stapp, a U-M professor considered the founder of environmental education, recommended the serene site for a nature center. A fifty-year celebration was held in 2014 with the dedication of the rustic William Stapp Amphitheater--six long benches forming a semi-circle. The same year, a trail was named for longtime supporters Mike and Madelaine Conboy. Until his death at ninety-eight, Mike tried to plant every kind of tree in Michigan in the nature center, and participated in its controlled burns and fall and spring community-wide workdays. "Even in his old age," says Ramaswami, "he was planting and pulling brush." Such is the dedication, she says, that is "preserving this gem in our community."
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