Volunteers, eco-enthusiasts keep the place vibrant
By Jessica Tuggle
WABASSO -- Twenty-five years ago, the Environmental Learning Center was just a dream. But now, more than 300,000 people have heard the story of the Indian River Lagoon's ecology and have been inspired by the center's environmentally conscious choices.
The Indian River County Commission recognized the learning center's commitment to environmental education in a proclamation during its Nov. 20 meeting at which time, the organization announced several special events to commemorate the 25th anniversary.
The original idea for the learning center sprung from the Pelican Island Audubon Society in the late 1980s, said Holly Dill, executive director of the Environmental Learning Center, located in Wabasso.
The idea was to create a public place, where visitors could learn about important natural resources and the very special ecology of the Indian River Lagoon. Today, this is exactly what the center has become, even through its challenges, natural and financial, Ms. Dill said.
The nonprofit, she added, was created in 1988, and following a capital campaign and hundreds of hours of labor by volunteers clearing the island where the center would be constructed, the first building opened in 1992.
"The first building built was our welcome center. Now it's 25 years later and we are exploding with activities to celebrate," Ms. Dill said.
Within the past decade, the concept of green and sustainable living has played a huge role in the center's education programming, targeting children, as well as adults.
"Every one of us can choose to make a change in our lives to live more sustainably, and that's what we are trying to teach at the Environmental Learning Center by giving practical examples," Ms. Dill said. "People can take them and implement them because that's our mission, to lead people to more sustainable lives."
The calendar of events for the year of celebration has not been finalized yet, but several activities are set and ready to go.
From Jan. 15 through March 30, the public can enter a free photo contest, "Lagoon Treasures." Details will soon be made available at the learning center and online.
A polo charity match will be held at Vero Beach Polo Club Feb. 24 at 1 p.m.
The annual EcoFest will be bigger and better than ever in celebration of the 25-year mark, Ms. Dill said.
"We are targeting families to come on out and have a good time in the outdoors. We are going to have more interactive booths and vendors. We have also expanded the 'make and take' art activities for the young kids," Ms. Dill said.
The free event will be held on March 3 from noon to 4 p.m.
The learning experience from the center will travel around the county in March to the Firefighter's Fair at the Indian River County Fairgrounds March 8 through March 17 and to the Vero Beach Boat Show at Riverside Park in Vero Beach on March 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A beach clean up is scheduled for March 30 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wabasso beach at the Penny Hill Beach Emporium.
At different times during the year, there will be nature book readings and author signings at the Vero Beach Book Center, as well as eco-quizzes on Treasure Coast Radio.
April will bring another bunch of springtime activities, including a Plein Air Poetry Day on April 6 from 4 to 7 p.m.; a Catch, Photo and Release fishing tournament April 12-13; a wild and scenic film festival at the Majestic 11 Theatre in Vero Beach on April 21 and a junior eco-golf tournament and festival at the Vero Beach Country Club with the Indian River Golf Foundation on April 27.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization, and people interested in volunteering can visit the learning center on Dec. 4 to find out what being a volunteer is all about, Ms. Dill said.
From 3 to 5 p.m., those interested can stop in and informally get information about volunteer opportunities, without any commitment level required.
For more information about events and activities at the Environmental Learning Center, call (772) 589-5050 or visit www.discoverelc.org.