Nature Education Centers Join Forces: November 5, 2011

Coyote Trails will continue mission of struggling Medford organization

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Bodhi Weir, left, and Kai Fix play a game called “screaming cheetah” Friday afternoon at Coyote Trails Jefferson Nature Center in Medford. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore

November 5, 2011

for the Mail Tribune

Coyote Trails School of Nature has taken over operation of the financially struggling Jefferson Nature Center in Medford and will continue the center's classes and field trips with low-income schools, while adding many new classes for all ages.

JNC has seen corporate and foundation funding wither during the recession, but has managed to stay out of the red, said outgoing director Susan Cross, adding that she is confident the well-established Coyote Trails, located in the Cascade foothills on Dead Indian Memorial Road, will bring "the energy and capability to make it grow."

Located on the Bear Creek Greenway corridor near the US Cellular Community Park ballfields, the 7-acre Jefferson Nature Center was started in 2004 on land owned by the city of Medford, mainly to provide nature education for Title I schools that lack funds for it. It serves 1,200 school children each year in Medford, Phoenix and Talent.

Its $80,000 to $100,000 budget came chiefly from grants from Carpenter, Meier, Cow Creek and Anna Mae Family foundations, as well as regional fundraising — and made some earnings with contract work, said Cross.

"It's been a hard economy, especially right after 2008. I've been working on organizational development and looking for ways to keep the center intact," said Cross. "I looked for a partner with the same mission, and Coyote Trails had that. They're positioned in the community, with fee-based classes ... that broaden the base of who might support the center."

The newly renamed Coyote Trails' Jefferson Nature Center, which will focus on an underserved 6-and-younger age group, began classes Friday with animal tracking, fire-making, awareness games and salmon spotting.

The center will hold an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today, with activities for kids and adults. There will be refreshments, "coyote coffee" (organic), live music and nature-related games, said Joe Kreuzman, director of the 10-year-old Coyote Trails and new director of the combined center.

The nature center will continue its Title I nature programs for schools, expanding to offer a range of nature-related classes similar to those presented by North Mountain Park Nature Center in Ashland. Its offerings will be included in Medford's "Community Connections" publication, which is direct-mailed three times a year to nearly 37,000 Medford households, with additional copies distributed at public schools and public institutions in Jackson County.

The goal, said Kreuzman, is a "nature immersion program with art, storytelling, tracking, games and field study" involving a "mentoring model" of outdoor education that starts in pre-school and can go on throughout people's lives.

Coyote Trails has for eight years been located at Earth Teach Forest Park, eight miles into the mountains outside Ashland. So "to have a jewel like this in the heart of town," said Kreuzman, "gives us a huge ability to bring nature education to all people of the valley."

The center is inviting applications from teachers with nature skills and knowledge to lead classes in such areas as basketry, fly fishing and nature writing, he said, noting that classes will be in the $10 to $15 range.

One teacher at JNC, Rachel Werling, said, "I'm really happy about the merger. It's been difficult to get funds for staff, and Coyote Trails has the gravity, base and similar values to make it succeed."

Cross will stay on for eight months, mentoring new staff and ensuring continuity with schools and foundations, until she and her family relocate to Tucson next year.

Classes are being coordinated so that parents can attend adjacent sporting events while dropping kids at nature classes.

The center is open 1 to 4 p.m. on Fridays and weekends, with activities posted on www.coyotetrails.org.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..