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Murray Journal

Murray Parkway’s Nature Center marks big year

Nov 11, 2021 10:17AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Grammy Award winner Hilary Hahn performs at Murray’s Kennecott Nature Center. (Photo courtesy Aly Lyddall)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

It’s a hidden gem on Murray’s Jordan River Parkway, and this year, the Kennecott Nature Center (5044 Lucky Clover Lane) experienced some of its most momentous occasions since its opening. Judith Payne, its first director, retired in October, and international violinist impresario Hilary Hahn performed a free concert in its amphitheater.

The Grammy Award-winning Hahn, who was in town to perform with the Utah Symphony, agreed to perform an intimate concert, Sept. 14, on the Jordan River’s banks, along with the El Sistema@Mariachi Ensemble. The show was part of the Jordan River Commission’s “Get to the River” celebrations.

Cathy Singer will take over from Payne, who has served 20 years as coordinator. Payne taught thousands of students during her tenure.

“Judith Payne developed programs that ranged from environmental science to creative writing and art. These programs are coordinated with enhanced grade-level learning objectives. She was the heart and soul of the nature center for over 20 years. At her retirement social, adults who had visited the Nature Center as children came to thank her. She made the Nature Center the success it is today,” Singer said.

Indeed, Payne coordinated buses, scheduled classes, and developed and taught the Nature Center programs. In addition, she integrated visits from the Natural History Museum of Utah, HawkWatch, and more into the Nature Center experience. 

Singer said, “She also made a ‘nature walk’ an integral part of the instruction here at the Nature Center. When kids walk through the door, the first thing they ask me is, ‘Are we going on a nature walk?’”

While a popular field trip destination with Murray schoolchildren, the Nature Center remains out of sight from the casual Jordan River Parkway pedestrian. Designed to fit unobtrusively into the environment, the Kennecott Nature Center of Murray is used to give elementary students an integrated education about nature through time outdoors, art, writing and many other activities.

“The center has been a Murray dream for many years,” Singer said.

The Kennecott Nature Center of Murray opened in September 1999. The 1,600-square-foot structure was a joint project of Kennecott Utah Copper, Murray City School District, and Murray City. A committee of Murray teachers developed lesson plans so that teachers and students could make the best use of their time at the center and learn as much as possible. 

“Because of an additional Kennecott grant, an almost full-time program coordinator was hired for the center in 2000,” Singer said.

Trails lead outward from the center through poplar groves and wetlands. Nestled in the hillside, a classroom displays skeletons, pelts, skins and taxidermized animals that live along the Jordan River as well as some that don’t, such as the shed skin of a boa constrictor found at one of Murray’s fire stations. 

“On the site, there is a wonderful wetland pond in addition to the bend in the Jordan River. Students study three ecosystems: wetlands, the dry land above, and the aquatic environment. There is a wide diversity of plants and animals, including migratory and resident birds plus terrestrial and aquatic animals,” former Murray School District Superintendent Richard Tranter said. 

Singer’s first task as coordinator is adapting existing lesson plans to match ever-changing school curriculums.

“As for the future of the Nature Center, I am working now to further develop the programs taught here to complement changes made in the last few years to the approved science core,” Singer said. “Students come here to learn about everything from bats and ducks to how food webs work. Sixth graders have a special lesson on the unique history and habitat of the Jordan River. We continue to take nature walks and observe this treasure of a wetland habitat right in the middle of a major metropolitan area. Just this morning, students were able to observe a red-tailed hawk right as they got off the bus. What a treat.”