The Millers River Environmental Center (MREC) is a community resource providing a working environment for collaboration between governmental and non-governmental agencies and citizens. Integral to this mission is a strong emphasis on the education and training of area citizens to enhance their appreciation for, connection with, and stewardship of the rich natural resources of the region.
Broad community participation in both the development and implementation of programs is core to the mission of the Center. Area schools and colleges, outdoor recreation and environmental groups, as well as social service organizations, are important collaborators in the educational outreach programs designed and facilitated through the Center.
In 1963 Robert Coyle, a science teacher in the Athol Public Schools, along with his students and their families, formed the Athol Bird and Nature Club. The Club’s original mission to enhance the appreciation of natural history in north central Massachusetts remains at the core of its work today.
The Club has always run a full calendar of nature walks, trips, and meetings that are free and open to the public. ABNC has an extensive natural history collection that began as part of Bob’s teaching materials. Upon retirement, that collection moved from the school and has been on display or stored in various places.
In December of 1999, the town of Athol offered the ABNC the use of a 1889 four-room school on Main Street if we would maintain the building and have it open to the public for educational displays and programming. During 2000, Club members and directors met with interested groups and individuals to create a plan for the use of the building.
Our facilities have been improved through hundreds of hours of volunteer labor, many gifts of materials, and funding from state and local agencies and organizations. The result of these efforts is the Millers River Environmental Center: a community resource for the town and the region that provides a place for meetings, opportunities for collaboration-in particular on environmental programs, and a home for the Club.
Integral to our vision for the Center is an emphasis on providing opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy, learn about, and steward rich natural resources of the region. Groups using the Center learn about our region’s natural resources through the Club’s exhibits that are on display.
Athol and Orange, the sister towns at the core of our region, are among the ten poorest municipalities in the state. On average there are 200 homeless students attending the public schools and these two towns have very high rates of violent crime (domestic abuse). Our free and low cost programs are available to many in the region that would otherwise be unable to participate, and our programs provide opportunities for positive engagement in community activities.
Broad community participation in the development and implementation of programs is core to the current work of the Athol Bird and Nature Club. Area schools and colleges, outdoor recreation and environmental groups, as well as social service, governmental, and business organizations are important collaborators in the programs we design, facilitate, and/or host.
For over twenty-eight years, David H. Small, a former student of Mr. Coyle, has been the charismatic leader of the Club. His skills as a naturalist, trip leader, and presenter are in demand throughout New England. Primarily through David’s efforts, the Center is recognized as the place to hold meetings that relate to natural history and the environment.
In addition to the Club’s regular public meetings, nature walks, and field trips, since opening the Center, the Club facilitates initiatives in three program areas; Community, Schools, and Stewardship.