Seven Ponds Nature Center

A Nature Sanctuary and Environmental Education Center

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SPNC Appoints Next Executive Director

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Daryl Bernard will begin his tenure as the next Executive Director of Seven Ponds Nature Center on February 13, 2017. Daryl will work alongside current Executive Director Mike Champagne for four weeks, until Mike’s retirement from the center on March 10th after 25 years leading Seven Ponds Nature Center.

Knowing that it would be hard to replace Mike, the Board was elated to find someone of Daryl’s caliber with his proven leadership and community building skills.  He has been described by his colleagues and students as having an infectious amount of enthusiasm and determination.  The Board was excited to hear about his ability to create a true sense of wonderment for the natural world in the younger generation and to accomplish goals that others told him would be unattainable.  The Board is confident that he will be able to lead the Center into its next half-century and to maintain it as a significant resource for environmental education.

Bernard comes to Seven Ponds after an eighteen-year career as a middle school science teacher in the Saginaw Township Community School District. During his tenure at White Pine Middle School, he started the school’s highly successful cross country program, attracting up to 80 students per season to the team, and earning the MITCA Michigan Middle School Cross Country Coach of the Year Award in 2012. He also started a middle school birding club, introducing numerous young people to the world of birds and nature.

A Michigan native, Daryl grew up immersed in the outdoors, constantly exploring and discovering. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Saginaw Valley State University, and was presented with the William B. Owsley Award for Outstanding Biology Graduate by the SVSU biology staff upon graduation. He went on to earn an additional Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, which led to his career as a middle school science teacher.

“I am beyond excited about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead of me. I feel incredibly honored to be named the next Executive Director of Seven Ponds Nature Center. I have read the history of Seven Ponds, and I stand in awe of those whose vision and dedication over the past 50 years has made Seven Ponds Nature Center the incredible place that it is today. I will commit myself fully to leading the center forward with that same vision and dedication.”

The staff and board are excited about the passion and leadership Bernard will bring to role of Executive Director. His desire to share the wonders of the natural world with those around him aligns perfectly with the mission of the Center. We hope that you will stop by and give Daryl, and his wife Laura, a warm Seven Ponds community welcome as he begins his work in mid-February.  

New Office Manager

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Seven Ponds’ new Office Manager is Diane Rankin. Diane comes to the nature center with knowledge and skills learned in a variety of office settings. She started her position at Seven Ponds on December 12th, which allowed her to work with retiring Office Manager Dan Hayes for three weeks. She is enjoying her work and enjoying the natural setting that she gets to work in.

Diane grew up in Imlay City, met her husband, Patrick, while going to school there, and the two still reside in town. They have three children; Anthony, Leigha, and Forrest.
Diane has a variety of hobbies, including backyard birdfeeding, gardening, baking, photography, and scrapbooking. Stop in and introduce yourself to Diane the next time you visit.

Around the Center


Knee High Fun
Just in case you haven’t seen the new pre-school nature discovery area, you may want to come on out and enjoy the Nature Nook with your young nature lover. It is filled with puzzles, puppets, books, and blocks all revolving around a nature theme.

Batty Bungalows
Six new bat houses will hopefully provide our resident bats with cozy places to live. Three stations of paired houses have been erected on poles in the North-80 and near the front parking lot. This is another wonderful Eagle Scout Project, completed by Nathan Scott.

Wants and Needs


  • New hand-held loppers for use in our work against invasive plants.
  • Books for the Stinger’s January sale.

Have you included Seven Ponds in your will?


The Lapeer County Community Foundation manages 61 funds to provide grants for a wide range of charitable purposes. Since 1996, over $2.75 million has been given to enhance the quality of life in Lapeer County. This includes several generous grants to the nature center. The Foundation was instrumental in our recent Capital Campaign and has also provided funding for invasive plant control and other projects. We appreciate their continuing support.

Reflections from Seven Ponds


By the time you receive this issue of Heron Tracks, I will be finishing up my 25th year at the nature center and heading into retirement. Seven Ponds is a very special place and it has been my privilege to serve as the nature center’s Executive Director.

Non-profit organizations like Seven Ponds play an important role in our communities and in our society. Why non-profit? Because unlike for-profit entities which are selling goods or services which people need and can afford (bread, cars, electricity) or things which people want and are willing to pay for (big screen TV’s, cameras, boats), non-profit organizations are providing things which people need, but either don’t want, are unable to pay for, or are unwilling to pay the full price for. If it was otherwise, some enterprising individual would have started up a chain of “McNature Centers” a long time ago. Fortunately, the Federal Government long ago recognized the need for the kind of services non-profits provide and the challenges such entities face. A special non-profit status was created which provides exemption from many taxes and the ability to accept charitable contributions from donors. This gives non-profits a much-needed boost. Seven Ponds is a perfect example of the kind of organization the federal government had in mind with non-profit statutes, and the nature center now has a nearly 50 year tradition of serving the community. During my tenure as Executive Director, I have tried to maintain this tradition, turning charitable contributions from dedicated donors into a variety of mission-related programs and activities which benefit the community.
Speaking of the mission statement, that’s where it all starts with any non-profit organization. Seven Ponds’ mission is to serve the community as a nature sanctuary, an environmental education center, and a peaceful retreat. Many people believe passionately in this mission and are drawn to the nature center because of it. I am one of those people. One of my most important responsibilities as Executive Director has been to make sure that the organization “keeps it eye on the prize” and that charitable contributions made by our supporters are directed toward the mission. This has not always been easy. The Executive Director of a nature center is bombarded with suggestions, requests, and proposals for activities which are often outside the scope of the mission. Typically, this results from a desire to get more people out to the nature center, something we all strive for. In an attempt to increase visitation and participation, we are drawn toward activities which we know will bring more people through the door. We try to be all things to all people. The best non-profits resist this path and take on the difficult task of developing and offering activities which will meet the mission, while at the same time being well-received. I have tried to keep us on that path, and am very proud of the way that Seven Ponds is thought of in the community. We stand for something. In addition, I believe that staying on mission has been an important factor in the very generous support we receive and the success we have had.

We, and I emphasize “we”, have accomplished a great deal during my time as Executive Director. The nature center has grown from 273 to 500 acres. We completed an ambitious capital campaign and capital project which renovated and expanded our facility. We educated hundreds of thousands of children about the wonders of our natural environment. We provided learning opportunities, ranging from hour-long Sunday walks to week-long field tours for adults. We conducted intensive stewardship activities on nature center lands; removing invasive species, erecting bird and bat houses, and planting native trees and shrubs. We expanded the number of special interest clubs meeting at the nature center, providing a variety of ways that people can connect with the natural world. We served as an environmental resource for the community; answering phone calls on a variety of topics, providing expertise on local issues, and serving as an example of proper land stewardship. And, along the way, we have put the nature center on a strong financial footing. Year in and year out, we have made improvements here. I am always pleased when people I talk to tell me what a valuable asset the nature center is to the community. The word “gem” is often used.

Any reflection on the past 25 years must include the very special people of Seven Ponds. The nature center’s staff, volunteers, and members truly are like one big extended family. My wife Gayle, our son Alex, and I were met with open arms by this family when we arrived in 1992. Over the years, we have developed hundreds of friendships with people we have met through the nature center. This includes many of the people who were instrumental in the center’s history. We have had the honor of knowing Patty Schemm, who started it all with her husband Rip in 1967. She is a wonderful person and has given so much to the nature center over the years. She exemplifies the power of charitable giving. Sadly, as in every family, we have lost many of our friends and supporters over time. I will never forget Don and Bee Naish, Nancy Murray, Georgia Reid, and Dick Greer for the roles they played in the history of Seven Ponds, as well as for their friendship.
Seven Ponds has come a long way during my 25 years as Executive Director. Still, there is much to do and many challenges ahead, not only for the sake of the nature center but for our natural environment in general. I encourage you to continue your enthusiastic involvement and your generous support. Perhaps Dr. Seuss said it best in The Lorax. UNLESS . . . Unless someone like you, cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
I hope to see you along the trail sometime where flowers are blooming and birds are singing. All the best!

Mike Champagne, Executive Director

(from the Spring 2017 issue of Heron Tracks)

Grants & Gifts

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Seven Ponds has been awarded a grant for $12,000.00 from the Four County Community Foundation to help fund field trips to the nature center for children in the Almont, Armada, Capac, Dryden, Imlay City, Oxford, Richmond, and Romeo School Systems. The grant also funds four weeklong sessions of Annie’s BIG Nature Lesson for children in the Dryden and Imlay City School Systems, and a teacher workshop for local educators. The grant was funded through the Foundation’s Dora & Toos Ondersma Fund and the Jane E. Bishop Memorial Fund. The grant is part of their “No Child Left Indoors” initiative, which was established to help address the need for children to spend more time in the out-of-doors. The Foundation has been helping to fund school field trips to Seven Ponds since 2010 and the nature center is very pleased that this partnership continues in 2017. The funds will allow many local school children to experience the nature center’s woodlands, fields, ponds, and prairie. The Four County Community Foundation serves the corners of Lapeer, Macomb, Oakland, and St. Clair Counties where they meet. In its 29 year history, the Foundation has grown from $2,500,000 to $14,200,000 in assets and last year awarded 262 grants totaling $330,000.00. The grants were for a wide variety of activities which make our communities a better place to live, work, and visit. Additional information may be found at their website: www.4ccf.org.

Lapeer County Community Foundation Grant

This summer, the nature center received a grant from the Lapeer County Community Foundation for $3,920.00 to create an activity center for pre-school children in the Discovery Room. The activity center features a cubbyhole system containing such items as animal pelts, skulls, feathers, turtle shells, games, puzzles, and other things which pre-school children will enjoy examining. The activity center also contains a small table and chairs, just right for small children, where the cubbyhole objects can be looked at. This new feature for the Discovery Room should be in place by the time you receive this newsletter. Come out and take a look!
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