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Brukner Nature Center Provides Wildlife Conservation, Rehabilitation and More, Serves the Community for 50 Years

Written by Paetyn Greve

TROY - Located just outside of Troy, right off of Horseshoe Bend Road and backed by the Stillwater River, Brukner Nature Center sits on 165 acres of woodland rife with wildlife and crisscrossed by hiking trails. Brukner Nature Center is a local nonprofit, privately funded by generous donations from the very community it seeks to serve.

Above, the Interpretive Building at Brukner Nature Center

At right, a statue of Clayton J. Brukner

   Brukner serves as both a wildlife conservation center and a wildlife rehabilitation center. Opened to the public in 1974 by Clayton J. Brukner, a philanthropist and businessman, it celebrated its 50th anniversary in May. The facility boasts an impressive variety of exhibits in addition to the six miles of hiking trails, including the Iddings Log House, built in 1804, the Interpretive Building, an animal rehab center, two ponds, and the center’s wildlife ambassadors.

At left, a pond at the nature center and at right the Iddings Log House

   Deb Oexmann, the Executive Director of Brukner Nature Center, offered some insight into the nature center and its fascinating history. Deb has been in her position for 35 years, after gaining her masters in zoology. She was hired as a Teacher Naturalist while finishing her masters, and after working her way up the ladder, has remained within the program and has greatly enjoyed doing so.

   While working at Brukner, she has seen a lot of changes. Clayton Brukner’s original nature center was, “...the quintessential nature center with tree hikes, recycling programs and historical events.” However, the staff began to realize that while they were good at those things; other places were doing them better. What Brukner did best, however, was wildlife conservation, and as Deb put it, “...defining our niche in the environmental community and partnering with our colleagues rather than competing with them.” When Deb was asked how Clayton Brukner would feel about his center today, she said, “I think he would be amazed!”

   The changes haven’t just been in regards to the mission of the center either. In addition to the miles of hiking trails on the main property, “We purchased an additional 70 acre property on Calumet Road on the north edge of the Village of West Milton in 2011, bringing our total acreage to 235,” Deb stated. They plan to install concrete pathways through the prairie to allow for increased access.

   In regards to their wildlife conservation, Brukner Nature Center is leading the charge. They average 1,500 wildlife patients a year that staff and volunteers nurse back to health before releasing them back into the wild. Although their most common patients are mammals, like rabbits and squirrels, they also treat opossums, birds, and snakes. Brukner also boasts an impressive array of what they refer to as their ‘wildlife ambassadors’. These are animals with injuries that make it impossible for them to survive in the wild, and they therefore reside at the nature center full time. Deb states that, “We care for our 50+ wildlife ambassadors every day of the year - cleaning and feeding them. Each individual has special needs - none are easy or hard.”

Left to right, a boardwalk trail, turtles in the pond and exhibits in the Interpretive Building.

   While the goals of Brukner are primarily wildlife conservation, Deb also stated that her goal is to get people more comfortable with the wildlife in Miami County. Deb says that “building empathy for wildlife in wild places,” is a huge goal of hers, and teaching kids and the next generation about the ecosystem and the cyclical role of people and nature; how we affect nature and how nature affects us. She wants the next generation to grow up aware of the beauty of nature and wildlife surrounding us and hopes they make conscious decisions in regards to that wildlife. As she says, “...although releasing one more Eastern Cottontail into the wild may be insignificant, it’s the 10 minutes we spend educating each wild patient donor that will make the most impact.”

   That impact is especially profound on the members of Brukner Nature Center. Members, the people who pay a yearly subscription fee (the basic membership costs $30 per year, but there are upgrade opportunities available for families and extra guests), are extremely important to the center. As Deb said, “Our members are the people that become engaged, they send their kids or grandkids to our programs, they come to our special events, they maybe become bigger supporters, they shop or make contributions - they’re always thinking about us. That’s what helps us to reach our goals.”

   Because Brukner is a nonprofit, they receive their income from donations, grants, and membership fees. Larger donations, like the Lifetime Membership option ($2,500), go into their endowment fund, which allows the funds to grow while also being able to be withdrawn when needed. Most of their funds, according to Deb, go to the salaries of their seven full time staff members, while the rest of their support comes from volunteers. According to Deb, “Volunteers provide much-needed support. Last year alone they donated over 7,000 hours! …Some volunteers have been with us for 45 years!”

   While the rehabilitation center is not open to the public, everything else is. Admission to the trails, the interpretive building, and all of the exhibits, costs $2.50 per person, or $10 per family. There are also the yearly membership opportunities which include free admission as long as you remain a member.

   When it comes to looking towards the future, Deb has high hopes for the center and for the employees it will see. She says, “I have a clear vision for our mission and future. We have a core leadership staff and provide a stepping stone for new professionals in the field… it’s very gratifying to see these amazing individuals go on to do amazing things!” As the world continues to change and grow so will Brukner Nature Center along with it.

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