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Conservation group seeks $150K from city to build 'premier' nature centre

'Disconnection' between children and nature has resulted in increased rates of mental-health issues, anxiety and childhood obesity

One dollar from each City of Barrie resident. That's how much it would take to help build a new "premier" nature centre at Scanlon Creek Conservation Area in Bradford, where the old digs have reached their best-before date. 

The Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation is making the rounds to local municipalities looking for funding for the new building at Scanlon Creek, including a stop earlier this week at Barrie City Hall.

The group is seeking $150,000 from the city over a few years as part of the almost $6.5-million project. Around $1.2 million has already been raised as part of the private-public partnership.

"Lake Simcoe is central to our community and its health affects us all," said Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation campaign manager Lisa Spinks, a longtime Barrie resident who said it's a project she's "very passionate about" and which would benefit city residents. 

The new building, which could open as soon as 2022 and has been in the planning stages since 2014, would be over 8,000 square feet, with a capacity for 250 people, including three multi-use rooms. It could bring in around 15,000 people each year, from children to seniors.

The current 2,800-sq.-ft. nature centre is composed of three repurposed portables and includes two classrooms with a capacity for 60 people. The 1980s-style facility has reached the end of its lifespan and is not barrier-free for people with accessibility concerns. 

Once built, Spinks said the new nature centre will be "the premier destination for outdoor learning in Simcoe County."

Spinks says times have changed from when she was a little girl. 

"When I was a kid, my days were spent outdoors, breathing fresh air, playing with friends, building forts and exploring the woods and the streams that led to the lake," said Spinks. 

Spinks pointed to studies which indicate children spend less than five minutes a day outside, 

"Outside time is being replaced by screen time and there's a new epidemic we're facing in our world: nature deficit disorder," she said. "This disconnection with nature is resulting in increased rates of mental-health issues, anxiety and childhood obesity."

According to Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation statistics for 2019, student program participation at the Scanlon Creek facility included 61 per cent from schools in Simcoe County, including 25 per cent from numerous Barrie schools alone. Thirty-four per cent come from York Region and the remaining five per cent is from private schools. 

Spinks said demand will grow as more people move to the city. 

By exposing more kids to nature and all it has to offer, the new nature centre will foster a great love and appreciation of the outdoors, said Spinks.

Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation executive director Cheryl Taylor said outdoor education improves mental and physical health, boosts academic achievement, gets children physically active, and "inspire the eco-champions of tomorrow."

"Generations of students fondly recall their first trip to Scanlon and it was the catalyst that encouraged a deep respect for nature and its role in everyday life," said Taylor. "I think we can all agree that (outdoor activity) is more important now than ever before."

Scanlon Creek has also developed and is expanding a program called Therapy in the Woods, which has partnered with children's development services at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie through funding from the Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation. The "life-changing" program addresses social isolation and inclusion. 

"Children with disabilities fall short of their peers when it comes to life experiences," Spinks said. "This program allows us to provide equal opportunities to children and their families in a safe environment. ... A whole new world opens up to them."

For more information on Scanlon Creek, which opened in 1963 and covers around 750 acres, click here.  

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Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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