Sycamore Land Trust endowment helps ensure environmental education programs live forever

On an overcast morning in the fall, 15 Bloomington High School North environmental science students gather near a stream at the Griffy Lake Nature Preserve. They divide into groups and gather equipment — nets, collection bins, test tubes, and even hip waders. Sycamore Land Trust‘s Environmental Education Director, Shane Gibson, describes the river watch exercise the group will conduct that day. With the help of Gibson and Sycamore volunteers, the students spend the next two hours in the stream collecting and analyzing data on water flow, habitat, chemicals, and macroinvertebrates.

Later that same week, Gibson travels to Unionville Elementary School to meet up with a class of 15 kindergartners. He leads the class in an exercise all about trees — from seedling to root system, to trunk, branches, leaves, and fruit. The class then goes outside to gather tree nuts of all varieties to learn how and why squirrels collect and store them for winter.

“Once you gain an appreciation for nature, that’s when the conservation and deeper level of understanding kicks in,” says Gibson. “We’re providing those initial experiences of awareness and observation that we hope later in life contribute to greater understanding.”

Since 1990, Sycamore Land Trust has preserved more than 9,100 acres of land in 26 southern Indiana counties, including hardwood forests, native prairies, family farms, wetlands, and critical habitat for threatened and endangered species. Sycamore’s Environmental Education Program was added in 2005 to connect people of all ages with nature and foster the next generation of conservationists.

Sycamore provides hands-on educational opportunities on its nature preserves as well as in classrooms and schools. Gibson works closely with educators and community groups to customize lessons that meet teaching objectives. Lessons often include math, science, discovery, hiking and exploring, reflective writing, experimentation, collection of data, analysis, and interpretation.

In 2015, Sycamore Land Trust collaborated with the Community Foundation to create a new endowment fund that would allow its educational program to grow and be sustainable long-term. The Monarch Environmental Education Endowment is one of three designated endowment funds that support the organization and will help to ensure that these programs can continue to touch lives forever.

“Partnering with the Community Foundation is a natural fit because, like Sycamore Land Trust, the Community Foundation is also in the business of forever,” said Christian Freitag, Executive Director of Sycamore Land Trust.

In 2016, Sycamore rallied support for its educational endowment and took advantage of a Community Foundation agency endowment match opportunity. Thanks to generous donors and supporters, the Monarch Environmental Education Endowment has continued to grow every year. Sycamore expects this fund to reach more than $900,000 in early 2018, with a concerted effort to reach a $1.3 million goal by the end of the year. Once this goal is met, distributions from this fund will cover the majority of costs of the educational program on an ongoing basis. In the meantime, Monarch Fund endowment fund distributions help to make it possible for Sycamore to provide its environmental education program free of charge to more than 5,000 people per year.

“Sycamore Land Trust can sit in people’s living rooms and say, ‘Because of your support, because of your investment, Indiana will be a different place in 100 years,’” added Freitag. “Our children are going to have access to life-changing programming that they wouldn’t otherwise have. I think the future is only going to grow for this program.”

Learn more about Sycamore Land Trust’s Environmental Education Program. To support this endowment, Donate Now, and select Fund Name: “Monarch Environmental Education Fund.”