Hans Christian Andersen once said, “Just living is not enough…one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
He penned those words a good century before Beaver Creek Reserve (BCR) was established, but this 400-acre nature reserve, located in Fall Creek along Eau Claire Energy Cooperative’s lines, answers the famed author’s call perfectly. There’s a certain magic in a visit to BCR, and there are all kinds of lessons to be learned here amidst the fun, not unlike some of Andersen’s fairy tales.
“Our mission here at Beaver Creek Reserve is connecting people with nature,” said BCR Marketing and Development Director Brianne Markin.
Visitors are free to explore the sprawling campus, with its nine miles of hiking trails, a Discovery Room filled with hands-on exhibits, a Butterfly House, an observatory for studying the stars on a clear night, and beautiful grounds filled with towering trees, a creek, and much more than “just a little flower.” There’s plenty of sunshine here too, which BCR is making the most of, but more on that later.
Recent additions and renovations have made BCR a fresh experience for all guests, from first-time visitors to regular participants. Inside the Wise Nature Center, where guests begin their visit, is the newly expanded and renovated Scheels Discovery Room, filled with hands-on, interactive exhibits that have been updated to better reflect the nature found right in the reserve. The Discovery Room is also home to the new 3M Fledgling Forest, with a slide, a reading area, and lots of nature-themed educational toys.
Renovations have also enhanced BCR’s outdoor features. The reserve’s groomed trails have always attracted people for hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, birdwatching—whatever the season calls for. However, recent improvements have made the trails even more user-friendly.
For example, outside the Discovery Room is an interactive kiosk where guests can enter information about what type of hike they’re looking for in terms of length and difficulty, and then receive a trail recommendation. There’s a trail for all abilities and ages, even the littlest ones.
The Storybook Hiking Trail is a quarter-mile paved walk through the woods, guided by a nature-themed story that’s told on giant storybook pages displayed alongside the path. BCR staff selects a different book each season to display; whenever possible, a local or regional author is selected.
Another recently added feature is a series of Nature Nooks—outdoor-themed play pods tucked in the woods and accessible from the Storybook Trail. Each has a slightly different theme; Little People Big World has oversized birdhouses and spiderwebs, while Nature’s Symphony provides a set of climbable instruments. A fourth Nature Nook called Family Nook will open later this summer.
“The benefits of nature for kids doesn’t have to come from some heavy-duty lesson,” Markin said. “Studies have shown that just being outside in nature is beneficial, so the idea here was just to get kids outside and give them lightly structured play areas in nature.”
Activities at BCR cycle with the seasons, as does the regular programming. For summer, there’s star gazing at Hobbs Observatory, included within BCR’s campus. This is where members of the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society host public viewing on clear Saturday evenings once a month.
Another popular summer attraction is the Butterfly House, open July 5 through the Sunday before Labor Day. This feature offers a unique opportunity to examine some of Wisconsin’s native butterflies up close in their natural environment.
The Monarchs are raised from eggs in BCR’s caterpillar lab by trained volunteers. Markin said BCR typically raises 400 to 600 Monarchs each year, with as many as 15 to 20 different species in the Butterfly House throughout the summer.
Butterfly Fest is held during the peak of butterfly season in early August, this year August 5. The day includes interactive seminars and plenty of fun, educational activities for children.
“Butterfly Fest is also the only time people can see the caterpillar lab,” Markin said. “They can hold and touch them and see how they’re raised.”
Bright Times at BCR
Last year, BCR achieved a longtime goal of Executive Director Erik Keisler when the Wise Nature Center became fully powered by solar energy. Three years in the making, this achievement is due in part to a generous donor who enabled 141 solar panels—the maximum amount for the building—to be installed on the roof of the nature center. Eau Claire Energy Cooperative’s MemberSolar program is providing the remaining solar energy needed to make the nature center a net-zero electrical energy building.
“The entire nature center is now supplied 100 percent by solar energy,” Keisler said. “July (wrapped) up our first year of solar production, and we look to be producing enough to cover all our energy needs. That’s a savings of approximately $9,000.”
The savings, he pointed out, means more resources can be directed to fulfilling the reserve’s mission.
“We are investing money into ourselves,” he noted. “We’ve invested in these solar arrays and now we’re able to put that money back into programming to help teach kids about the environment.”
Keisler also credited Eau Claire Energy. “We’ve had a very good relationship with our local cooperative,” he said. “We went into this solar project together, and if we didn’t have that relationship we wouldn’t have been able to do as big a system.”
Eau Claire Energy Cooperative has been a partner with other projects at the reserve as well. For example, co-op employees routinely volunteer at BCR through the United Way Day of Sharing campaign. Last year, co-op lineworkers converted some overhead line to underground line as part of BCR’s recent parking lot expansion.
“Beaver Creek Reserve is an outstanding educational facility for the youth of our area, and the adults for that matter,” said Eau Claire Energy Cooperative CEO Lynn Thompson. “We’re proud to be involved. Also, a lot of our members are actively engaged and leading on a volunteer basis, so it’s a great partnership all the way around.”