A Natural Fit

WHEELING – Since relocating to the Ohio Valley to assume the leadership of the Schrader Environmental Education Center at Oglebay Park earlier this year, Chicago native Alice Eastman has been studying the local ecosystem.

“The deer here are different. They are smaller than the Chicago-area deer, but they are not afraid of humans,” she said during a walk along one of the center’s trails.

Eastman is taking over on a full-time basis for former director Eriks Janelsins, who was named president of the Oglebay Foundation last year. She holds both botany and environmental biology degrees and said she has worked in environmental education her entire career.

“I knew Eriks. Now I am trying to fill his big shoes,” she said, noting her admiration of the center’s former director.

The center is part of Oglebay Institute, one of West Virginia’s oldest cultural organizations.

The center strives to provide opportunities to celebrate and study the natural world with a commitment to inspire individuals to develop and maintain sustainable relationships with the environment.

The dynamic programming that takes place inside and outside the center is just as impressive as the building.

Each year more than 40,000 people from preschoolers to adults participate in hands-on classes, school programs, camping experiences, service learning projects and public events.

Though Eastman is pleased with the work the center has been doing, she said it is also time to consider making some possible adjustments and upgrades.

“We are evaluating our exhibits to make sure that we are catering to all the demographics we should be,” she said. “I have seen everyone here from 2-year-olds to grandparents. We want to make sure that, if there is anyone we are missing, we can find a way to appeal to them.”

Eastman also said there is a possibility the center could take on a more research-based focus, perhaps working more closely with West Virginia University or Ohio State University.

“We want to explore all avenues. We are always going to work with school groups and Scout groups, but we want to see what else we can do.”

In the meantime, Eastman invites those looking to learn more about nature – or to just enjoy a quite walk through the woods – to come to the center. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Schrader is located just up the hill from Schenk Lake, near Wilson Lodge.

“I want people to come into our building, have a look around and then go out on our grounds to explore,” Eastman said. “West Virginia has a lot of natural beauty, and you can see a lot of it here.”