Recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the Stokes Nature Center Annual Banquet of the Bridgerland Audubon Society
The Vineyards at Mt. Naomi Farms
September 21, 2022
Bryan Dixon (pdf)
The 25th anniversary of the opening of the Allen and Alice Stokes Nature Center is November 1. There are so many stories of students having fun learning about the natural world and discovering how things work. But we should also preserve some of the stories about how it began, for there were many members of Audubon and the community at-large who were and remain committed to its mission “to provide nature education and promote outdoor exploration of our natural world.”
I “blame” it on Jack Greene, who had the bright idea to start a nature center, based on his experiences at the Ogden Nature Center and the Teton Science School. In the mid-1990s he heard that the building built by the local VFW Post near the mouth of Logan Canyon in the 1920s and expanded in the 1950s had been given to the Boy Scouts, but it no longer fit the Scouting programs and they were interested in giving it up.
The building was a wreck. There were holes in the ceiling, fires had been built on the linoleum floor, nearly all the windows were broken, and the plumbing didn’t work. It was historic, and the Forest Service simply wanted a responsible new occupant.
Audubon had some cash—mostly donated by Allen and Alice Stokes—and was interested in promoting nature, of course, but the Forest Service had doubts about whether we were stable enough. The First Presbyterian Church was well established and interested in a retreat site but had no funding. So, Jack developed a business plan, pro forma financial statements, and an initial board of directors and off we went to ask for a special use permit to operate a nature center. At first, we were afraid to invest more than labor until we had possession.
Glen Gantz stepped up to act as general contractor, providing absolutely critical organization, leadership, and construction skills, having just finished his and Kathy’s own log home in Richmond, and here’s where a story begins.
We finally gained title and a Forest Service permit in August 1996 and planned the first of many capital improvements—replacing the moss-covered shingle roof with a metal one. He ordered the roofing to be delivered the Friday of Labor Day weekend, 1996. The Board was a bit nervous because we’d never taken on a project of this complexity or magnitude. “No worries,” Glen said, “I’ll be there, but I’ll meet you up there the week before and explain how we’ll do it.” He showed us a brochure that described how to attach the sheet metal and finish the edges. He even arranged for 16 volunteers to show up at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday.
And then it happened.
It was dark at 4:30 a.m. that Saturday morning when we got a call from Glen’s wife, Kathy, that Glen was heading to Salt Lake City. Heidi George, whose husband had died from a cardiac event just three months earlier, was in labor—on Labor Day Weekend—and he was her Lamaze coach. There would be no one with Glen’s experience to guide us in figuring out the details.
It was too late to call it off. At 7:00 a.m., 16 volunteers showed up. We had a roof to install.
We worked all weekend, late into the evenings, and had all the metal sheeting tacked on well enough to walk on it. Amazingly, no one had been injured—not even a smashed thumb! When Glen returned on Monday evening, he looked the result and asked, “Why are you using so many screws?” Following the brochure, we were putting the self-tapping screws in the pattern shown on the brochure. “You only need a few,” he insisted. And today, as you walk up- canyon and look at the front of the roof, you can still see the point at which he returned, for there is a dramatic reduction in the density of screws.
That was the first of many projects to get the building ready, and through the next 14 months, Glen guided us in installing windows and doors, finding and pumping the septic tank, trenching the concrete floors to replace all of the mystery plumbing, insulating the building, replacing the furnace, rebuilding the bathrooms, and, last but not least, creating a small apartment where a young couple could live to watch over the place. Meanwhile, other volunteers were working on organizational tasks and a curriculum.
The Logan Canyon Nature Center was set up to be independent of either Bridgerland Audubon Society or the First Presbyterian Church, both to protect the parent organizations from financial insolvency and to give the nature center board a free hand. Sometime in the fall of 1996 the Board thought it’d be a good idea to name it after Allen and Alice Stokes, who had been such an amazing example of inclusiveness and charity. And, frankly, the nature center board hoped that by doing so, fundraising and stability would be easier. But then, in November of 1996, Allen Stokes had a heart attack, followed by a stroke.
Alice got him a Lazy-Boy recliner and we’d visit him from time to time, telling him about our progress, for he remained enthusiastic about any project that involved teaching kids about nature.
Finally, we got up the nerve to ask Allen if we could name it after them—after all, they were Quakers and not all that keen on fame. We suggested “The Allen and Alice Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon.” “No,” Allen said, somewhat putting me back on my heels, “but you may call it the Alice and Allen Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon. I’m sure I smiled inside, this being just one more example of Allen’s thoughtfulness, but Alice had the last word, you see, because Allen died before we could finish it that summer of 1997 and Alice told us that, yes, we may use the Stokes name, but only if it is “Allen and Alice Stokes Nature Center.”
And so it is. Over the last 25 years, the staff has grown, board members have come and gone, but they have maintained the focus on nature education that rings true to anyone who cares about the natural world, and they’ve carefully avoided partisan issues in order to really serve everyone in the community.
I have to be honest. I didn’t think a nature center in northern Utah would gain enough support from the general populace. But it has, and it endures, and Mother Nature continues to delight in the experiment.