Anne Hines saw her first hoary redpoll at the Audubon Center at Garden Creek. She was the one who spotted the bird’s unusual white breast.
Up to a dozen Casper birders would gather each week to watch nuthatches, chickadees and once even a Baltimore oriole fly to the center’s feeders.
Those days are gone.
After 16 years of tours, classes and bird watching, the Audubon Center at Garden Creek is shuttering its gates. The family which owns the land says the building was old, and it’s time for the property to return to its natural state. Audubon Rockies, which leased the land, is beginning a community naturalist program in Casper to bring outdoor education to local schools.
Birders in the area are sad, but are thankful for the years they could spend at the Garden Creek center.
“Locally, our chapter doesn’t have the money to build another center,” said Hines, education chairwoman of the local Murie Audubon Society. “It has been a great thing.”
The center formally started in 1997 by Casper philanthropists Jim and Audrey Bailey. They wanted the land to stay in one piece and give students the opportunity to see birds and other wildlife, said James Bailey, the Baileys’ son and president of the Jim and Audrey Bailey Foundation.
The Baileys leased the land to Audubon Rockies, a regional branch of the National Audubon Society, for $10 per year.
It was intended to be used for school groups, said Dusty Downey, education and outreach specialist for Audubon Rockies. The center was never meant to be open to the public. Audubon Rockies paid a staff member to work there during the day, which meant children and adults could visit, watch birds and wander the grounds when the staff member was in attendance.
Many local birders like Hines came to depend on the facility. The Murie Audubon, a local volunteer chapter of the National Audubon Society, would meet there nearly every month of the year. Hines and others would help with education programs and raise money for the center. It was at the center she added birds like the hoary redpoll to a growing list of birds she’s seen.
The center served hundreds of school groups and people in the community each year.
As the years passed, though, the main building deteriorated. Jim Bailey built the house in 1939. It needed major structural repairs, James Bailey said.
The family does not plan to sell the land. It will tear down the building and let the land return to its natural state. With all of the people who came and went, it was beginning to look more like a city park than a wild area nestled below Casper Mountain, James Bailey said.
The Nature Conservancy holds an easement on the land, which limits certain types of uses and prevents development now and in the future to protect ecological or open space values. The easement permits education programs and activities, but it does not require them, according to Arlen Lancaster, conservation initiatives director for the conservancy.
The Bailey foundation will continue giving scholarships to Wyoming students and supporting local organizations such as Meals and Wheels and Camp Hope.
Audubon Rockies’ community naturalist, Rene Hansen, will stay in Casper, Downey said. She is working with students at the Garden Creek center until April when the Audubon lease runs out.
She has started working more in schools, bringing education to the students. She will also lead tours and education events in local city parks and at Edness K. Wilkins State Park outside of Casper, Downey said.
“We feel this is an opportunity to move forward,” Downey said. “We are sad, but feel this will open the doors to other opportunities. We can still support the schoolchildren of Casper.”