Centaurus High School engineering students take a Lafayette energy tour with Thomas Open Space in the background. (photos courtesy Lafayette Open Space)

A High Bar for Environmental Education

By Lisa Truesdale

Martin Ogle was never too fond of the term “nature center.” He likes what nature centers do, of course, but he explains that by calling them that, we’re distinctly separating out those “natural” things from everything else in our lives. This perpetuates the incorrect notion that nature is “over there” and people are “over here.”

“If we are to truly honor and exemplify the basic concept of ecology — that everything is interrelated — then we must make sure to integrate all aspects of our lives with the life of our planet and our life on it,” he says.

Ogle is in a position to do just that. He feels fortunate to be a contractor for the City of Lafayette Open Space department, working closely with superintendent Rob Burdine and the heads of other city departments, city committees and local organizations. Together, they create all-inclusive programs that reinforce the connection between the human community and the planet’s other living systems.

“We have a master plan,” Burdine says, “and Martin and I allow this plan to guide us, and each year we add color to it, and ride the momentum of citizen interest. This plan, developed with and approved by a citizen committee, seeks to increase awareness and appreciation for the environment and its natural systems.”
The way they do this, explains Burdine, is by stretching the boundaries of traditional open space programming so that it’s more than just nature walks.

In addition to his work with Lafayette Open Space,
Ogle also works with local youth, including Boulder County Youth Corps, to discuss how environmental principles can apply to their future careers. (photos courtesy Lafayette Open Space)

“We work hand in hand with the art community, sustainability groups, our schools, CU, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, local farms, businesses, our Youth Advisory Committee and others, forming partnerships that result in more than 20 public programs per year, dozens of school field trips and large-scale efforts similar to
Lafayette Birds.”

Lafayette Birds is the community-wide program that ultimately led to Lafayette officially being named Colorado’s first “Bird City” in September. Earning the designation was a community-wide effort that required meeting a set of criteria, such as using native plants, controlling invasive plants, restoring habitat and addressing sustainability and energy issues.

“It’s not just about watching birds,” Ogle says. “It’s learning about them, appreciating them and ensuring that our community can maintain healthy populations of them.”

In November, Lafayette Open Space partnered with the Lafayette Energy Sustainability Advisory Committee to present a program featuring “hands-on and feet-on” activities exploring renewable energy, energy efficiency and the history of energy in the community. On Dec. 4, there’s a talk for teens and adults called “Geology of Colorado: Foundation of History,” and on Dec. 8, Ogle is hosting a workshop where participants can make holiday ornaments out of materials found in open space, like milkweed, pine cones, branches and leaves.

Ogle was still working on the 2020 calendar of events at press time, but he says it will include a unique mix of offerings such as a “Deep Time Walk” and lots of art, sustainability and history programs.

Burdine and Ogle both say they feel fortunate to be able to provide such a wide variety of programming to the community.

“The administrative support we have is outstanding,” says Burdine. “Each year, we’ve pushed the envelope a little further, and after about five years, we now have a significant presence in our community.

“It’s not very common for a town this size to be making such a substantial investment in its environmental education and outreach, but Lafayette is setting the bar high.”


For an updated listing of winter/spring events, check www.cityoflafayette.com/openspace.

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