Schlitz Audubon Nature Center—A Hidden Gem

May 27, 2021

By Kathy Gaillard,
freelance contributor

Aliah Berman

Schlitz Audubon Nature Center is an independent, locally supported partner of the National Audubon Society. Located at 1111 East Brown Deer Road, it is one of the most visited attractions in Milwaukee. With reasonable admission prices, engaging and interactive programs for children and adults, meeting rental space, and pristine nature trails, we spoke with Board President Aliah Berman to learn more about the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.

You serve on the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center Board of Directors. As a person of color how and why did you get involved?

Aliah: I’ve been on the board of the Schlitz Audubon Center for five years and now serve as board president. One of my first dates with my now husband was hiking at Schlitz Audubon. We spent a lot of time hiking the trails and going to Doctor’s Park, which is nearby. Now, nature has become synonymous with family time. My husband, who participated in the Master Naturalist program at the Center, and my children are all involved with various programs at the Center.

A friend joined the board and, when they were recruiting for new board members, I joined. I didn’t initially have deep knowledge about environmentalism or conservation, nor did I have an innate connection to nature, growing up. Joining the board was an opportunity for me to continue learning about an organization to which I hold a sentimental connection.

Why do you think that some people—especially communities of color— don’t take advantage of the trails or Center’s amenities?

Aliah: Currently, we reach about 155,000 people each year; that includes about 20,000 students. Of those students, more than 5,000 children come from the central city and are given free passes for family members.

While we don’t track demographics, we know through research that, in general, communities of color don’t engage with nature that much. There is historical evidence of barriers to state parks, camping and hiking, include such things like access, transportation, and costs. For some, an $8 admission fee may be too steep to pay, particularly for those who may want to visit often. Also, people of color may not feel safe or have a sense of belonging when it comes to hiking or camping. For example, last summer Christian Cooper, who is African American, was ‘birding’ (bird watching) in a park when someone called the police on him. That said, some black and brown communities regard spending time with nature— camping or hiking— as a ‘white thing’ and not the norm for black families.

What can or should be done to encourage more communities of color to visit nature centers and state parks?

Aliah: First, state parks and nature centers must be deliberate about reaching out to communities of color. Black and brown communities want to see staff and educators that look like them when they visit. Nature centers and state parks should also have racially diverse board members to help guide their efforts strategically and promotional materials should reflect diverse populations. Schlitz Audubon is currently recruiting people of color for its board.

One of the things that Schlitz Audubon works hard at is generating interest in environmental stewardship among younger people. We have fostered several partnerships to attract more racially diverse populations. We offer a full week, at no cost, to the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs for summer camp. We also deliberately recruit paid interns of color during the summer so they can learn more about environmental internships. And, through our long-standing partnerships with organizations like MICAH and Next Door Foundation, we offer free passes for admission.

How much is Schlitz Audubon membership and what does it include?

Aliah: Membership fees are reasonable. An annual, individual membership is $55 and family membership (two adults and all children or grandchildren) is $65, Students and military pay $35, annually. Membership benefits include unlimited admission to the Center, discounts on programs and events, priority registration for preschool and summer camps, Nature Store (on-site) discount, and a subscription to the Center’s seasonal publication Panorama. Membership also comes with preferred or free admission to select nature centers throughout the United States and Canada.

Share something about Schlitz Audubon Nature Center that most people do not know.

Aliah: I think many people don’t know that 100 years ago this land was a farm. In fact, this year we are celebrating our 50th Anniversary. The land was donated to the Audubon Society as a learning center. Over the years we have been able to put into place some nationally recognized programs, including a nature pre-school, which is one of the best in the nation. We also have programs for middle schools, adults, and a master naturalist course that runs for six weeks. My husband took this course and said it’s one of the most enriching experiences he has had. I have also attended early, Saturday morning yoga and meditation classes, which is cool to do because it is in such a beautiful, serene, and natural environment. There is something for everyone here.

To learn more about the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, visit www.schlitzaudubon.org. You to learn more about the Center or to reserve meeting space call (414) 352-2880.