Fort Collins Foundation Gives Colorado State University $325,000for Environmental Learning Center Expansion

A $325,000 gift from a Larimer County philanthropic organization will fund an interactive children’s exploration marsh and amphitheater as part of an aggressive expansion of Colorado State University’s Environmental Learning Center.

The Stryker Short Foundation’s gift will greatly enhance the center’s planned new headquarters, located one-quarter mile west of Interstate 25 and Prospect Avenue in Fort Collins. The ELC’s new home is expected to attract more than 500,000 visitors and Colorado youth when it opens in the fall of 1998. Construction is expected to begin early in 1998.

"Thanks to the Stryker Short Foundation’s generous gift, the Environmental Learning Center’s new home will serve as the jewel for environmental education in Colorado," said Glenn Haas, director of the ELC. "This contribution will help us further the center’s mission to advance environmental stewardship among our students and the community and will incorporate a number of concepts that illustrate the issues that shape our natural heritage."

Haas said the children’s exploration marsh funded by the foundation gift aims to introduce youth and adults alike to the value of water and wetlands to Colorado and the West. The meandering, interactive boardwalk will connect the Environmental Learning Center’s main building with Boxelder Creek and wetlands on the property, where visitors will have the opportunity to see and appreciate diverse aquatic wildlife. Colorado youth, with the help of adult environmental educators, will help design and build the project so that it reflects the interests of today’s young people.

In addition, Stryker Short’s gift will fund an amphitheater as part of the Environmental Learning Center expansion. The amphitheater, nestled amid xeriscape demonstrations to illustrate the need for conserving water in the West, will serve as a centerpiece for educational programs and community events. This outdoor theater, located behind the ELC’s new headquarters, will seat as many as 100 people. Youth from the area also will help design and build the project.

"Both of these projects will provide an excellent opportunity to discuss water resources, urban wildlife, natural building materials and many other important aspects of the environment," said Al Dyer, dean of the College of Natural Resources. "These interpretive facilities will enhance the experience for students and visitors to the ELC and provide real- life experiences in our natural world."

Colorado State’s College of Natural Resources established the Environmental Learning Center in 1968 as a way to convey environmental research to Colorado residents and visitors where it actually takes place–in the rivers, wetlands, prairie grasslands and other natural settings. The concept has proven popular in Colorado, especially with youth. This year, more than 80,000 students visited the center and participated in guided or self-guided educational programs focusing on river ecology, fisheries, waterfowl, wildlife, raptor rehabilitation, wetlands and other environmental education programs.

Thanks to a $500,000 grant from Coors Brewing Co. in 1993, the ELC was able to begin plans for construction of a much-needed larger building and interpretive center. That gift led to a greater partnership with the city of Fort Collins, the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau and Colorado State Parks, both of which will share space in the new building. The partnership between the university, city and state made funding the marsh and amphitheater especially worthwhile, a Stryker Short Foundation representative said.

"The ELC project is a one-of-a-kind and a jewel in the crown of our community," said Beth Juday, executive director of the Stryker Short Foundation. "We are very proud of Colorado State University, the city of Fort Collins, the Fort Collins Convention and Visitors Bureau and Colorado State Parks for their efforts in working together to create an educational showplace for our entire community to call their own."

The Stryker Short Foundation was established in 1995 by Tommy and Pat Short to benefit projects involving youth, environment and the arts, primarily in Larimer County.