Connecting People with Nature Indicators
Parks & Nature Recreation :: Natural Area Recreation :: Proximity to Parks
Environmental Education :: Environmental Education Centers :: Community Colleges :: State Curriculum
Environmental Choices :: Green Buildings :: Transportation Choices :: Waste and Recycling Practices

Environmental Education Programs

What is this?

Environmental education programs offered by private and public organizations outside of schools were examined by region. Many programs throughout the Triangle have been designated environmental education centers by the Office of Environmental Education of North Carolina , so for the purposes of this indicator programs and centers were identified by county, participation trends. Themes behind the type of education provided and the importance of these types of programs is discussed.


Why is this important?

Environmental education programs outside of schools are important for the Triangle because environmental literacy is promoted and natural stewardship may be increased by participation in these programs. Environmental Education is an important part of connecting people with nature, because the main characteristic of environmental education is using the outdoors as a learning environment. Environmental education is critical to all ages and social groups. For children, environmental education taps into their curiosity about animals, plants and other natural elements, aiding in the production of motivated students at school. For adults, environmental education is important because it directly relates to an increase in more environmentally friendly behavior, and aids in their ability to protect their personal and family health. For the workforce, environmental education is vital because it can translate into jobs skills. Finally, for the community, environmental education promotes green educated citizens and participation in public service projects for the environment.

Environmental Literacy and Stewardship

Environmental education provides learners with necessary tools to be of environmentally literate and exemplify natural resources stewardship:
  • Environmental Literacy: Understanding how natural systems function and how humans and the environment are intertwined.
  • Natural Resources Stewardship: Educated persons are vital to addressing, preventing and solving local environmental problems from monitoring pollution to planning for sustainable development.

What does this measure show?

Nonformal and Informal Environmental Education Environmental education programs outside of a formal structured education system (school) can be defined as nonformal and informal. Nonformal environmental education consists of environmental learning in a nonformal setting such as parks, nature centers, community centers, zoo’s and youth camps. Informal environmental education consists of unstructured activity where people learn about the environment from exhibits, the media and the everyday. Informal and nonformal environmental education throughout the Triangle provides a space outside of school where the teaching and practice of environmental literacy and stewardship can be extended further than the classroom and into fun and meaningful everyday activities.

Environmental Education Centers There are 45 environmental education centers in the Triangle (Figure 1). Opportunities are available throughout the region for nonformal and informal ways to increase environmental literacy and stewardship. With a number of parks housing environmental eduction programs and because it is home to several state museums containing environmental eduction centers, Wake County has more environmental education centers than other Triangle counties.

Figure 1. Number of environmental education centers throughout the Triangle by county.

Chatham County has 6 centers: Screech Owl Farm School , American Livestock Breeds Conservancy , Piedmont Biofuels Co-op , Jordan Lake State Rec Area, Jordan Lake Educational State Forest, Jordan Lake Visitor Assistance Center.

Durham County has 7 centers: Little River Regional Park, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, West Point on the Eno, Museum of Life and Science, Schoolhouse of Wonder, Eno River State Park, Piedmont Wildlife Center.

Johnston County has 4 centers: Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center, Arboretum at Johnston Community College, Hatcher's Bridge Tree Farm, Clemmons Educational State Forest.

Lee County has 1 center: San-Lee Environmental Education and Recreation Park.

Orange County has 7 centers: Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center, New Hope Camp & Conference Center, Morehead Planetarium & Science Center, North Carolina Botanical Garden, Spence’s Farm, Irvin Learning, Maple View Agricultural Center.

Wake County has 20 centers: Falls Lake State Recreation Area, Falls Lake Visitor Assistance Center, Blue Jay Point Center for Environmental Education, William B. Umstead State Park, Durant Nature Park, Prairie Ridge Ecostation for Wildlife and Leaning, NC Museum of Art Park, NC Museum of Natural Sciences, NC Solar Center, Centennial Campus Center for Wildlife Ed, Historic Yates Mill County Park, Stevens Nature Center, Crowder District Park, Bass Lake Park, Harris Energy and Environmental Center, Harris Lake County Park, Lake Crabtree County Park, Walnut Creek Wetland Center, Anderson Point.

Participation Trends. Participation in nonformal and informal environmental education centers, throughout the region demonstrates if Triangle citizens are utilizing the programs provided. Unfortunately, participation rates are rarely tracked by environmental education centers, thus it is difficult to come to any conclusion on participation trends over time. Below is an example of participation trends at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area’s environmental education programs:

Figure 2. Participation rates for fiscal years 2005 to 2010 for environmental education programs offered by Jordan Lake Educational State Forest.
Note: Data are were available for only the first 9 months of fiscal year 2010 at the time this indicator was developed.

If this information were available for all programs, a much more accurate assessment could be made about the environmental education program participation trends. Participation at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area in environmental education programs increased steadily from 2005 to 2008 but from 2008 on has been in sharp decline. This decline is due to the fact that the operational schedule for the environmental education programs at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area changed at the end of the 2008 fiscal year from offering environmental education opportunities year round to being closed Mid-November to Mid-March for winter maintenance. The operational schedule was changed due to a loss of a position at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area where they now cannot maintain year round operations. Though it is apparent that there is a reason behind the major participation decline from 2008 on, it must be noted that in the 2009-2010 data is incomplete as participation data is only available until March 2010, leaving out April, May, and June for the fiscal year 2010.

Limitations and Further Research

Retrieving participation rates for these environmental education centers was extremely difficult. Out of the 40 plus environmental education centers contacted, only Jordan Lake Education State Forest was able to provide data. This was a great limitation to conducting a complete study on environmental education participation in the Triangle.

Further research would need to pursue obtaining this information from other environmental education centers to get a complete picture on participation rates in environmental education Triangle wide. Data on private and public funding for environmental education programs would also be of value, possibly explaining trends in participation. Other possible avenues to pursue with future research could be the creation of a value of measurement pertaining to the effectiveness of such programs.

Author Leah McManus, NC State University :: 2010.05.03
Reviewers Wally Thurman, NC State University :: Emily Ander, City of Raleigh

Technical Notes

To obtain information on the importance of environmental education and themes of environmental education, The North Carolina Office of Environmental Education served as the primary resource. Environmental education centers throughout the Triangle were also identified by the Office of Environmental Education. Environmental education centers were noted, including which county the center was located. To obtain participation rates for environmental education programs, about 40 centers were contacted. For those centers that were contacted, contact information was found on the Office of Environmental Education website. Information about participation rates for Jordan Lake Educational State Forest was sent by Forest personnel (included below).

Spreadsheets containing the data:
EE Centers in Triangle.xlsx
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area Environmental Education Program Participation Trends .xlsx

Resources for Environmental Education.docx
Resources for Environmental Education.pdf

Connecting People with Nature Indicators
Parks & Nature Recreation :: Natural Area Recreation :: Proximity to Parks
Environmental Education :: Environmental Education Centers :: Community Colleges :: State Curriculum
Environmental Choices :: Green Buildings :: Transportation Choices :: Waste and Recycling Practices