Excitement surrounds new nature center, which broke ground this summer
In the 1970s, the mountains and valleys of Nederland, Colorado inspired musicians to create some of their most iconic music.
Artists like Billy Joel, Carole King, John Denver and John Lennon came to the secluded Caribou Recording Studio to hike, watch wildlife, take in the beautiful scenery and let their creativity abound in their new music.
Now, 50 years later, Jill Dreves, founder of Wild Bear Nature Center, hopes that same landscape will inspire a new generation of children who spend more time learning, playing and connecting with the natural world.
“We’re firm believers that we need to rewild children,” Dreves said. “We have a problem right now with research showing that only seven minutes per day are spent in unstructured play outside, so this is really important.”
Wild Bear Nature Center offers programs and classes centered around wild nature, from eco-art to outdoor adventures to climate action — in a strip mall, surrounded by a parking lot. Their current space was always meant to be temporary, Dreves said, and their construction on an expanded nature center in Western Boulder County that will be surrounded by 3000 acres of wild preserved land and 16 nature trails is a dream coming true.
The new center, which broke ground in early August, will be 8,500 square feet, and will have more classrooms and event spaces that Wild Bear can dedicate to new programs and community gatherings, a kitchen for culinary activities, a wildlife observation deck and an outdoor amphitheater with a playscape that’s integrated with the existing nature in Nederland.
The new center will also feature a net zero design, meaning the building will send at least as much energy back to the grid as it uses through its 50 kilowatt solar panels, passive temperature regulation and energy efficient design.
Moving outside of the constraints of the shopping mall will also allow the nature center to be more ADA accessible, so that anyone can easily enjoy the new center’s amenities, Dreves said.
With these design decisions, the Wild Bear team hopes to set an example for other construction projects that it is possible to create spaces that are cooperative and conscious of the natural environment, and even give back to the planet through their design.
“We’re in a climate crisis, we have to all do our best,” Dreves said. “This is a model for the future. If we can do this at elevation with extreme weather, we can do it anywhere.”
Jess and Dave McElvain have been coming to Wild Bear with their two children since 2017 because the education and excitement their family gets from the center is amazing, they said. Their kids especially love seeing all of the animals at Wild Bear and sharing what they’ve learned when they come home.
The McElvains are excited for the new center and value the chance they had as patrons to give input as Wild Bear developed plans. Sustainability, accessibility and programs for school-aged kids were all very important to them, and they are happy to see these features in the new design.
Justin Gold, founder of the Boulder-based natural food brand “Justin’s” and donor to Wild Bear, feels that the nature center fulfills a need for spaces where all generations can go to learn about Colorado’s flora and fauna and get outside in a community setting.
Gold enjoys seeing his children participate in programs that combine art and imagination with practical nature-based education, he said.
“There’s been a really nice confidence element, a really nice educational element, and then Wild Bear gets kids moving, gets kids outside, gets them off of their screens, and I think that’s really important for mental health,” Gold said.
Jess McElvain is excited to explore the new center with her family, and see the Wild Bear team accomplish a goal that they’ve held for decades, she said. The space and children’s programming is invaluable to their family and their community, she added.
“I look forward to seeing what they’re able to do once they have this new center built and they have a truly dedicated space to help them create and expand and just really dream,” Jess McElvain said.