Story and photo by David Lindquist, chair of the Cary Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Advisory Board.
Cary, NC – This month, the Stevens Nature Center at Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Friends, staff, volunteers and others in the community gathered to celebrate this landmark on May 8.Hemlock Bluffs’ 3,700 square foot facility was established in 1993 in honor of Colonel William Walton Stevens and his wife, Emily Wilson Inscoe Stevens, the conservationists and philanthropists who helped make the nature preserve a reality in the 1970s. Paying tribute to the work done and remembering the early days were Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, former Wake County Commissioner and state senator Richard Stevens (nephew of Colonel Stevens), Councilman Jack Smith, and others.
Changes Over Time
The Nature Center has been a considerable success in Cary. From beginning as a project to preserve a unique natural resource, it has moved to a leading center of educational programming as well as gateway to one of the community’s most beautiful natural assets.
In the beginning, Hemlock Bluffs comprised of 140 acres and 3 miles of trails that is home to a system of north-facing bluffs that provides a unique environment for the Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis) and other vegetation that are uncommon in the Piedmont of North Carolina. In the 1970s, this special legacy became the focus for the Hemlock Bluffs Preservation Society. Their hard work paid off as the nature preserve was protected under State of North Carolina jurisdiction.
Starting in 1989, the State of North Carolina and the Town of Cary began their partnership to manage Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve. In 1995 the Cary Woman’s Club embraced the mission of supporting preservation activities and nature education. With their assistance, funds were made available to create exhibits and procure resources for use by nature center staff. This support organization was renamed Friends of Hemlock Bluffs in 2001 and continues to provide vital support to the nature center, the nature preserve, the environmental education programs, events and projects;
Two Decades of Accomplishments
According to Laura White, Nature Center supervisor, the Town of Cary has conducted almost 8,000 nature programs at the Stevens Center, in which over 97,000 people have participated. In addition, almost 20,000 volunteers have donated their time to improve the nature center and the preserve and approximately 1.2 million visitors have come through the gates – and even the gates have improved over the years!
In recent years The Town of Cary at Stevens Nature Center successfully implemented the eradication of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, a prescribed burn program that created wildlife habitat and protected neighboring homeowners, and a restoration of a portion of Swift Creek that crosses the property. With the assistance of the Friends of Hemlock Bluffs the educational exhibit hall was completed, funds were contributed toward the installation of new front gates, and three REI grants were awarded totaling $35,000 that led to new interpretive signage on the trails and a complete replacement of the bottomlands boardwalk.
Looking to the Future
What’s next for the Stevens Nature Center? The next twenty years will see a growing emphasis on education and conservation techniques in a much larger Cary. Staff’s goals at the Stevens Nature Center include creating an understanding and consequent appreciation of Hemlock Bluffs and its unique communities, helping visitors understand how Hemlock Bluffs is related to the ‘place they call home’ by both personal contact and interpretive displays and exhibits, and providing visitors with the tools to make better informed environmental decisions at home.
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