The Pepper Family Center for Conservation Education

No one better understood the need for conservation education in an increasingly urban world than Max McGraw.  His realization, indeed, his prescience, that modernity would be placing ever increasing demands on families—everything from academics, to extra-curricular activities—evolved into the Foundation’s Center for Conservation Education.

The Center, located on the property, is the former home of Max’s daughter and grandchildren. As such, it is centrally located in a “living laboratory” of more than 1200 acres that Max developed from the farmland it was in 1937, to the kind of Northern Illinois habitat you would likely encounter 200 years before. More than 800,000 trees were planted and some 30 lakes and ponds were dug to provide habitat for fish and birds. Even a trout stream was built. More than 250 species of birds, 52 species of fish 18 species of amphibians and reptiles, 51 species of butterflies and 33 species of mammals utilize the habitat that is the Foundation.

Since its inception, the Center has introduced tens of thousands of youngsters to the “real” world. It has helped them understand the complex relationships between civilization and the wise use of natural resources.  It has taught them that the food on their plates did not originate from a grocery store,  that the clothes they wear were not grown in shopping malls and that the materials for the homes in which they live did not find their genesis in building supply outlets.

It has taught them that the building blocks of our entire society come from Mother Earth and that we cannot take from the planet more than we give without long-term dire consequences.

But along the way, it has provided them the kind of fun and excitement that only nature can provide.

It has taken them on winter hikes and fishing trips, maple syrup harvesting and wetlands meandering. It has taken them along the food chain from macro invertebrates to big hungry fish and birds of prey.

The Center has also introduced them to the role that the consumptive use of wildlife has played in its conservation. It has shown them how the billions of dollars from taxes and fees have been used to fund conservation projects that have benefited society as a whole by restoring and maintaining the balance of life on earth.

As Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” so artfully put it:

“Yet in an increasingly de-natured world, fishing and hunting remain among the last ways that the young learn the mystery and moral complexity of nature in a way that no videotape can convey. Yes, fishing and hunting are messy—even morally messy—but so is nature. No child can truly know the value of the outdoors if the natural world remains under glass, seen only through lenses, screens, or computer monitors.”

The Center recognizes  that youngsters today have neither the time nor the opportunity to very often explore nature  on their own.  The staff of the Center for Conservation Education understands that it is up to each of its members to help introduce the spark that could fan the flames of a youngster becoming interested in and an advocate of conservation.

And that, is truly a goal worth striving for.

© Copyright 2021 Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation