The story of the Pine River Nature Center begins with the commitment of the St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency to provide outstanding learning opportunities for area students. Led by former Superintendent Joseph Caimi, the first discussions about a nature center for outdoor science education began in 1996. Superintendent Caimi recognized that although St. Clair County was mostly rural, many students had little experience with nature.
Community groups and county agencies were introduced to the idea and an advisory committee was formed. The St. Clair County Parks and Recreation Commission and the county Board of Commissioners endorsed the project.
In 1997, then-state Sen. Dan DeGrow coordinated meetings with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for the Pine River Nature Center on behalf of the St. Clair County Intermediate School District (now the RESA). The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund was identified as a possible source of money for the project.
Several properties were reviewed by the RESA as potential nature center sites, including one property on Harsens Island and one in Beards Hills. The final site along the Pine River was chosen because of its proximity to Goodells County Park, access to water, and its wide diversity of habitats. The RESA bought three separate land parcels, removed tons of trash, and dismantled and donated two houses to the local Habitat for Humanity chapter to prepare the property for the public.
The district received two trust fund grants from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for the project. Funding for property acquisition came in 1997 when the district was awarded $206,000. The DNR supported the nature center's construction in 2001 with a grant of $370,000. The district provided matching funds of $200,000 for the two phases of the project. Construction of the nature center lodge began in the summer of 2002 and was completed in the winter of 2003. The Pine River Nature Center opened to the public on April 27, 2003.
Numerous individuals contributed to the development and progress of the nature center. Through the years, advisory committee members provided ideas and guidance on the property development. Local naturalist Dan Rhein did initial work to create a trail plan and identify natural features on the property. Bob Collins, biology professor from St. Clair County Community College, conducted a bird inventory and assessed the natural communities on the property. The St. Clair River Waterways for Wildlife project of the Wildlife Habitat Council assisted in the development through a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide a wildlife habitat management plan, streambank assessment, flora and fauna inventory and trail plan.
These contributions are the foundation upon which the nature center builds today as it continues to grow and seek partnerships within the community, as well as grant opportunities, to make the facility into an outstanding resource for the county and the region.
The architect for the lodge was Dunn Construction Engineering in Port Huron. The general contractor was RA Card Construction Inc. in Kimball. The structure was a kit from Barna Log Homes Inc. in Columbus, MI.