by Kathryn Krawczyk
Earth Spirit works to put kids in touch with the natural world
Pause Netflix. Step out of the A/C. This summer, it’s time to get back into nature.
Since 1980, Earth Spirit Educational Services has been helping people around Western New York do just that.
Earth Spirit co-founders Herb Burgasser and Sanford Geffner had been doing tours and workshops at Tifft Nature Preserve in the late 1970’s. They enjoyed helping people experience nature, but after three years, they decided it was time to move on and create something of their own that was more expansive: Earth Spirit was created with nature programming that extends far beyond what they did at Tifft Nature Preserve.
Even though Burgasser passed away eight years ago, Geffner has continued the Earth Spirit mission.
“Our goal has always been to bring an environmental awareness and understanding to people so that they could better appreciate the world around them and their role in that world,” Geffner said. “That has always been our goal, that has never changed.”
To accomplish that goal, Earth Spirit puts together educational programs for schools, community groups and the general public.
During the school year, Geffner said one of Earth Spirit’s most popular programs are its Earth Days. Earth Spirit brings in environmental instructors to provide rotating stations with live animal demonstrations, ecology hikes, skulls and bones, and more. Each of these programs reaches anywhere from 300 to 600 kids.
Earth Spirit doesn’t just aim to educate children; there are plenty of opportunities for the whole family to get back into nature. In the past, it’s lead expeditions to Letchworth State Park, the Adirondacks and even the Everglades. Locally, Earth Spirit has its Living Naturally series, which hosts at least two public events every month.
So far, Earth Spirit has three Living Naturally events planned for this summer. On Saturday July 18, there will be a family-friendly hike through the Franklin Gulf Preserve. Participants should be prepared to get wet as they hike through the forest and stop at swimming holes along the way.
On Sunday July 26, Earth Spirit is putting on a paddling adventure at Ellicott Creek Park. Though participants have to provide their own canoe or kayak, it’s a great opportunity to learn paddling skills and creek ecology.
Finally, on Sunday August 16, Earth Spirit is hosting a tour of the Times Beach Nature Preserve and Lighthouse. Participants will meet at the preserve and walk along the boardwalk to the lighthouse while learning about the history and nature of the waterfront.
Each program runs from 10am to 12:30 pm and costs $7 for members and $10 for non-members, but children under 12 can attend for half price. To register, visit earthspiritedu.org.
Recently, Earth Spirit also secured contracts with nearby cities to provide expanded programming. In Orchard Park, there will be an Ecology Camp from August 3-7 and a Resident Wilderness Camp from August 26-27. Aurora will be holding an Ecology Day on July 9. And in Amherst, there will be an Ecology Camp from August 17-21. Residents can sign up for these events through their local recreation department.
Aspiring naturalists can also sign up for an Earth Spirit membership, which comes with a newsletter subscription, discounted programs, and exclusive events just for members. Those who just want to stay updated with Earth Spirit’s many events can check out its Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as its website.
And all these programs are just a start; Geffner hopes Earth Spirit will inspire people to get out and enjoy nature on their own.
“We’ve always seen ourselves as seed-planters, and hopefully some of those seeds will germinate, blossom, and new naturalists will be born,” Geffner said.
Since Earth Spirit is a non-profit organization and doesn’t rely on grants, it can’t expand without funding from memberships, programming fees and donations. And as important as the Earth Spirit message is, it couldn’t go anywhere without the help of its dedicated workers.
“Anybody that works with us and has done so through the years lives to work, we don’t work to live,” Geffner said. “What we share through our work is in fact our priorities in life.”
Earth Spirit has five core staff members, but relies on its larger program consulting staff for larger programs like Earth Days.
Geffner said Earth Spirit reaches around 20,000 people each year through its current programs. But in the future, he hopes to spread Earth Spirit’s message even further by developing new programs, expanding upon current programs, increasing membership, and broadening out to the community.
Above all else, Geffner is just grateful he has had the opportunity to share his knowledge and love of nature with those around him.
“Through those sharings hopefully people will have a different sense of awareness for the natural world and ultimately care more about that world as a result,” he said. “That’s what we do to make individuals healthier and make our planet healthier.”blog comments powered by Disqus
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