“Best kept secret in Owensboro” is not a title that Deborah Branch wants for the Joe Ford Nature Center on the city’s west side. Established in 2010, the outdoor center and walking trails are free to the public. While Branch, director of the center, says the community is welcome any time, she hopes to have a big turnout Saturday for Joe Ford Day.
The event, starting at 11 a.m. and running until 2 p.m., will honor the late Joe Ford and city officials will dedicate the 2 miles of trails that wind through the 14-acre nature reserve.
Branch was able to secure a $23,000 federal grant from the Recreational Trails Program, which will update the current trails and add 10 fitness stations. While Branch said there will not be a groundbreaking on any new trails at this time, the grant will allow the current trails to be lined with timbers.
“That may not seem like a lot of money, but it is to us,” Branch said, adding that the nature center does not receive any funding from City or County governments and relies solely on grants and donations.
A stipulation of the grant, Branch said, was that the nature center contribute 20 percent of the funding and the sweat equity to make the proposed improvements.
She and nature center volunteers have been working constantly on the improvements, Branch said, and they continue to fundraise for their portion of the funding.
The grant will also fund benches to be added along the trails, which can be dedicated in memory of a loved one or pet for $50.
Saturday’s event will be fun for the whole family, Branch said. While the event is free, Branch said donations are encouraged. There will be a skit about the life of Ford, face painting, snake demonstrations and visitors can view Ford’s memorabilia.
“We are trying to keep Joe Ford’s memory and legacy alive,” she said.
Named Owensboro’s Naturalist in 2008, Ford founded the Owensboro Area Museum. Ford retired as director from the museum, now known as the Owensboro Museum of Science and History, in 1987.
The land where the nature center resides was established as Joe Ford Nature Park and was given to the Owensboro Area Museum to establish outdoor classrooms. A building was constructed in the park in 1986 to provide another area to educate children about nature. Upon Ford’s retirement, the Owensboro Parks Department accepted the park as part of their system. In 2010 the Joe Ford Nature Center was opened at the park.
Now the nature center hosts a number of educational programs for children year round and summer nature camps are held every Wednesday in June and July. Children can experience the life cycle of butterflies, help incubate quail eggs and get up close with snakes, turtles and tarantulas.
“If we don’t teach our children they will never respect nature,” Branch said.
There is a suggested $6 donation for kids to attend the nature camp. Those interested are encouraged to call 270-344-0596.