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So many of you have found peace, restoration and strength this year by visiting a Champaign County forest preserve and feeling the wind, hearing birdsong and enjoying all the benefits of nature.

In so many ways, you have found opportunities to connect with the rhythms of nature, remember lessons from history and found community, even if in a socially distant way.

A connection to nature is more important than ever! And we continue to ensure that younger generations also find the same strength you have found in your connection to the earth.

How we help you do that now looks very different. Creative opportunities for problem-solving abound this year, and the staff members at the Homer Lake Interpretive Center are no exception.

While we worked from home for several months, the animals housed on display at the center also “worked from home” — they went home with staff in order for them to be better taken care of.

The Homer Lake Interpretive Center is now open to the public with limited hours, and we are so excited to see you once again! The animals in the center are now back as well; they, too, are excited to see our visitors again.

As the school year begins this fall, remote learning will continue for most students. In years past, both the Champaign County Forest Preserve District and the Urbana Park District have hosted thousands of students in their natural areas, facilitating valuable outdoor experiences for them that connected them to nature while also meeting science learning standards.

As communities continue to isolate, in-person environmental education programs are not an option, and opportunities for outdoor experiences are limited. But ... we are excited to say that beginning this fall, the forest preserve district, Urbana Park District and the Champaign County Audubon Society are partnering to provide At-Home Exploration Kits for local teachers to send home with their students.

These kits are designed to motivate kids to spend time outdoors and strengthen their relationship with the earth by opening students’ eyes to the nature surrounding their everyday lives and in their own neighborhoods.

Keep an eye out for those kits this fall. Until then, check out all the videos and other online resources we’ve developed just for you, and then bring your young learners out to visit us!

Pam Leiter is assistant director of the museum and education department at the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. She manages the Homer Lake Interpretive Center and oversees the environmental programming throughout the district. Email her at pleiter@ccfpd.org.

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