At an Oct. 25 event celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Howard County Conservancy unveiled a $1.8 million expansion plan that will more than double its environmental education space and increase by 50% its administrative support areas.

The conservancy’s “Next 25 Years” capital campaign will fund the expansion of the Gudelsky Environmental Education Center at its Mt. Pleasant location.

The visitor experience is a key focus of this expansion, said Meg Boyd, executive director. “The new entrance will allow visitors to enter directly into the environmental education center,” she said. “The nature center will also open directly into the Honors Garden, so that we can fully incorporate this beautiful, two-acre, native plant garden into our programming. There will also be a covered outdoor classroom in the garden.”

Landscaping all will be “bay-wise,” and there will be green building elements throughout, she added.

The conservancy is seeking corporate support in its expansion campaign. “There will be naming opportunities for rooms and public areas as we talk to both corporations and individuals,” said Boyd.

Since its founding in 1990 by a group of local citizens, the conservancy has hosted more than 70,000 students for field trips, welcomed 20,000 at public education events, protected 1,600 acres with conservation easements and expanded to a second nature center at Belmont Manor and Historic Park in Elkridge.

Rooted in Volunteerism

Charlie Miller, who first became involved in the conservancy as a volunteer, is now a conservancy board member who is co-chairing the expansion campaign. “As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the conservancy, we are wonderfully pleased with the progress that has occurred,” he said. “The conservancy originally started as a land donation project by a very small group of people. Since that time, it has grown into a major educational center.”

After what Miller smilingly calls “an inauspicious start,” the staff has correspondingly grown after beginning with just one part-time person. The conservancy still serves a large number of people with a comparatively small staff of seven people, he added.

Over just the past 10 years, attendance at the conservancy’s public events and programs has more than quadrupled, and the number of students participating in the conservancy’s preK–12 educational programs has more than doubled.

An Opportunity for Businesses

The local business community has an opportunity to become a partner in the conservancy’s expansion, said Kimberly Dorsey Bronow, also a Howard County Conservancy board member and expansion committee co-chair.

At its heart, the conservancy is a gift for future generations, said Bronow. “Nature, history, the land — these are things we all share and have in common — and they can inspire us, offer us great wisdom and are essential to our health and well-being, now, for our kids and for all the generations to come,” she said. “We hope the community will come together to ensure that the conservancy’s expansion plans come to fruition so we can continue to connect kids and adults of all ages with nature and fulfill the conservancy’s three-part mission.”

That mission is to educate children and adults about our natural world, preserve the land and its legacy for future generations and model responsible stewardship of the environment.

The capital campaign offers local businesses, community organizations and individuals an opportunity to support this mission as part of their corporate social responsibility goals and actions, added Bronow.

“We hope they will consider making a donation to support the expansion,” she said.

The conservancy is welcoming donations of all sizes, via one-time gifts, monthly or quarterly donations or multi-year pledges. Engraved paver stones commemorating gifts of $500 will become a permanent part of the native plant Honors Garden adjacent to the new Nature Center. Naming opportunities are available for gifts of $1,000 and above.

“We also hope businesses and community organizations will be excited about how they might be able to partake of the expanded and enhanced facilities for corporate or group retreats and special events, and even just as an alternative and nature-steeped location for a regular meeting.”

Community Sharing

The 8,700-square-foot Gudelsky Center first opened its doors in 2005. Expansion construction is scheduled to begin in fall 2016 with a grand reopening the following spring. Hord Coplan Macht is the architect for the expansion project, with Plano-Coudon serving as general contractor.

“This expansion will enable the conservancy to grow and continue to fulfill its mission of protecting and connecting us with a treasure we all share and depend on — our natural environment — and we will be sharing our progress with the community every step of the way,” said conservancy Board of Directors Chair and M&T Bank Vice President W. Craig Engelhaupt.