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Local view: Hartley changes would drive away wildlife

Research proves it and teachers from four Duluth-area schools have seen it during the past two years: Student learning improves when they use their hands to examine frogs and other critters and when the sun is at their back. (File / News Tribune)

About the writers

This commentary was written by Duluthians Jim Balmer, Tom McCabe, Dan Mundt, Jon Ohman, David Rutford, and Tom Young on behalf of the nonprofit program “Gender Matters.”

We are opposed to the proposed Hartley Park Master Plan. It would destroy Hartley Nature Center and create a “recreation park.”

At a recent public meeting, the city of Duluth proposed many controversial changes, such as building a paved trail within the park, adding a boardwalk over a beaver-pond ecosystem, destroying the present pond and its ecosystem, altering trees and vegetation, and greatly increasing the number of people and new uses at Hartley.

The pond and its ecosystem support educational classes, University of Minnesota Duluth research on frogs, and many waterfowl, amphibians, insects, animals and vegetation. It must remain as is.

Hartley is first and foremost a nature center. Hartley exists because nature-loving people recognized the opportunity it presented. Hartley is unique in the world with 660 acres; two trout streams; a large pond; beaver house; wetlands; a variety of flora and fauna; and many species of animals, birds, insects and creatures with an ambience and atmosphere only a real nature center can have.

It took decades of care and work for Hartley Nature Center to evolve. Overuse by recreation, as proposed, would destroy Hartley, a fragile nature center. Proponents lack research for their proposals, and they apparently do not understand this unique, fragile, one-of-a-kind nature center.

More than 16,000 students, including 600 kindergarten-through-second-grade children participating in the nonprofit Gender Matters program, benefit from nature education at Hartley. The Gender Matters program is very successful. Hartley is the only place that the children can be immersed in nature. Educators in the Gender Matters program have proven education at the nature center has resulted in children’s marked improvements in their education. A grasp of the understanding of nature carries over to all classroom subjects. Children are more involved with school and have fewer disciplinary problems.

If the new proposals are put in place Hartley will have perfect trails for skiing, hiking and biking; no visual overlapping or trail interactions; popular distance racing events with hundreds of participants; people wading and splashing in a new pond; a hard-surface large “road” — and an absence of most creatures, ecosystems, flora and fauna. In nature classes teachers will have to show pictures of animal tracks because there will be no real tracks to look at. Most education groups will pull out of participation at the new “Hartley Recreation Park.”

We looked carefully at the proposed “improvements.” They are inconsistent with a nature center. The Hartley Nature Center is a community asset and jewel. No one group has the right to change it. We must not destroy what nature has given us for the community, for the education of our children, and to develop stewardship of nature and the environment.

With the new proposals, the destruction of the ecosystems and the loss of most natural life and habitat in the nature center will be beyond belief.

Hartley must be retained as a nature center. You cannot find any place in the world like it. It is a fragile city jewel that cannot be replicated or replaced.

We must continue the present nature center as the “footings” and “foundation” for our children to be immersed in and experience nature.

When we immerse children in nature they want to learn more about nature and take their new knowledge of nature into their classrooms and lives. Also, they begin to understand you must protect nature because it adds to our enjoyment of life.

Humans must have contact and involvement with nature because it is critical to our very existence and well-being.

Preserving and caring for nature is important to nature continuing.

No 6-year-olds are speaking at public hearings. We represent them, others and ourselves concerned about protecting Hartley as a nature center.