The Farmington Hills Nature Center is open to the public, with appointments and drop-ins available. Pictured, children attend a maple sugaring event at the Farmington Hills Nature Center in 2018.

The Farmington Hills Nature Center is open to the public, with appointments and drop-ins available. Pictured, children attend a maple sugaring event at the Farmington Hills Nature Center in 2018.

File photo by Donna Dalziel


Youth, family programming back up and running in Farmington Hills

By: Zachary Manning | Farmington Press | Published May 13, 2021

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FARMINGTON HILLS — With COVID-19 hitting just before spring and summer last year, most programs were canceled, and kids were left looking for different outlets.

Many studies have shown the negative influence COVID-19 has had on mental health, and with vaccination rates going up and numbers fluctuating, many organizations have gotten back to some programming, at least in a limited capacity.

The Farmington Hills Nature Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan understand just how hard the COVID-19 pandemic was on the community’s youth.

With yearly programming, specifically for kids and families, 2020 and the early stages of 2021 have been tough for those organizations, to say the least. However, with safety at the forefront, both places were able to get back to planning activities to ensure kids were staying active.

For the Nature Center, the original shutdowns didn’t last too long, as a lot of their programming takes place outside. Still, with all the unknowns, safety was a major concern and still is with all of their planned activities.

The Nature Center is located at 24915 Farmington Road, in Heritage Park, adjacent to the day camp building. Currently, the facility is open to the public for walk-ins and appointments.

Appointments can be made 10 a.m.-noon seven days a week and must be made in advance. Up to eight people are allowed per appointment, and a $10 fee is assessed per time slot.

All visitors are required to wear a face mask that covers the face and nose during the duration of the appointment. Public drop-in hours are noon-4 p.m. and are limited to 10 people at a time.

Patrons are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, and visitors will be added to a waiting list for entry.

One of the stark differences between the two is the presence of activity bins. Those with appointments will get to use activity bins, while drop-in patrons will not. Activity bins provide a more hands-on experience for patrons exploring the Nature Center.

“We’ve had to modify so much. Honestly, I think that even when you come and you’re not for an appointment, there’s still so much to absorb and experience in the Nature Center,” Nature Center Supervisor/Naturalist Ashlie Smith said. “Even though we had to take out a lot of those hands-on things that were a huge part of your Nature Center experience, I think we’ve still been able to modify things and have a quality experience for visitors.”

As for programming outside of the facility, there are a wealth of opportunities to get the kids and family outside this spring and summer. Some programming has already begun, and a full list of activities can be found at fhgov.com; navigate to the activities tab.

Among the activities available are the Little Trekkers hikes, a splash pad story time, a kids fishing day and Full Moon Friday Night Hikes.

Little Trekkers is for ages 1 1/2 to 4 and allows children and parents to explore the Heritage Park trails while participating in a story time and a take-home art project.

The splash pad story time is for kids ages 3-6 and allows them to enjoy the fresh air and a story with the Farmington Community Library. Kids are able to stay and play on the splash pad, use outdoor toys and explore the Nature Discovery Trail.

The kids fishing day will take place July 24 with a variety of different time slots. The Farmington Area Optimists Club provides each child with everything they need for a successful and safe fishing experience: their own high-quality rod and reel, a stocked tackle box, an informational and activity packet, fun how-to videos and live bait.

Full Moon Friday Night Hikes take place on one Friday each month and provide families the opportunity to listen for nocturnal animals, observe the night sky and hike the trails of Heritage Park.

Some classes offer drop-ins, but most require preregistration, which can be found at recreg.fhgov.com. Some classes are free, and some require a small fee.

“Our programs have grown because folks are just really looking for those outdoor opportunities and have really reconnected with the outdoors and with nature,” Smith said. “It’s becoming more of an important part of their lives because it’s something that they feel they can do safely that’s more low-risk for their family and for their kids.”

As for the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan, they were able to pivot very quickly when the shutdowns originally happened and came up with some virtual programs to keep the youth engaged.

The group has clubs all over metro Detroit and was able to provide virtual services five days a week to local youth that needed help and wanted to maintain that community atmosphere.

During the virtual programming, kids were able get help with academics and understanding how to cope with a new style of learning, among other things. As more information came out about COVID-19, the BGCSM was able to move forward with opening more sites to essential workers.

“I believe it was extremely important to be able to stand up our virtual program so quickly during the pandemic, because these youth are facing something that they’ve never faced before. As adults, we are too. The pandemic is something that we’ve never seen,” BGCSM Executive Area Director Chris Kyles said. “To be able to see familiar faces, to be able to see the club staff that they love and care about as well as the club youth, to be able to communicate, have fun, discuss issues and take their mind off the pandemic through the virtual programming was major.”

As of right now, the group has five clubs open across metro Detroit and hopes to have more open as the spring and summer seasons progress.

In terms of programming, kids have been able to work their way back into activities. For Kyles, having a variety of different programs for the kids is paramount, considering each kid has different interests.

He noted that they took community feedback to diversify their programming to better serve the interests of the youth in their clubs. Some of the programs kids can get involved in are virtual learning, sessions on industries and jobs, and sports teams.

Virtual learning is academic support for kids who need help in school. It is available 7:30 a.m.-3 pm. Kids are able to ask questions and get help in different areas of study.

The Industry Club is for youth ages 14-18 to immerse themselves in different industries. The first one focused on fashion and design, and kids were able to create and license a social justice T-shirt, with sales of up to $10,000, during Black History Month.

The BGCSM also has partners that come in and assist with running programs such as coding, robotics, gymnastics and cheer. They have their own tackle football team within the Greater Metropolitan Youth Sports League.

With every program, COVID-19 safety protocols are in place to ensure safety for all youth and adult participants. Any youth 6-18 years of age can get involved with the BGCSM. More information and how to join a club can be found online at bgcsm.org or by calling (248) 473-1400.

“One thing that we’re big on is youth voice and community voice,” Kyles said. “We listen to our youth and what they want to be involved in and what programs they want to see. So we have sports, we have dance and art, we have e-sports, we have academic support, we have character and leadership programs. There’s a wide variety of programs that we have for the youth that they put their voice into.”

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