Alexandria's Nature Bus
In May of 2015 the newest Alexandria's Nature Bus was delivered to Howell Nature Center (HNC) to replace the current bus (complete history below). The new bus was critical in continuing and expanding the Nature Bus program. In January of 2013, the foundation purchased the Spirit of Mobility bus from ARBOC Specialty Vehicles. A newer version of the first bus, completely ADA accessible, will continue to allow anyone to enjoy the new, professional and engaging activities aboard the bus.
The new Nature bus had a lot of thought put into everything from the tiny hidden images on the outside (for kids to search out) to the custom handmade cabinetry inside made from Michigan woods. All cabinets and the mini "pond" were made with a lot of love by Alexandria's grandfather Jim Bartel. Storage and accessibility was key when designing the interior to allow for the HNC staff to house supplies and secure the animal cages as well as the kid friendly atmosphere you instantly feel once inside the bus.
In spring of 2009, Leah and Craig Bennett met with Dick Grant and Dana DeBenham from The Howell Nature Center with their idea for using one of the foundation's buses. There was an overwhelming excitement between everyone. The Howell Nature Center (HNC) has been around since 1978 providing wildlife rehabilitation and conservation education with their on-site and off-site programs. Today with children spending less and less time outside, there needs to be unique ways of getting children interested in nature. That is where Alexandria's Nature Bus comes in. The Howell Nature Center has developed a complete program, involving hands-on activities, instructional conservation education and live animals.
The Nature Bus was designed with an exciting and engaging exterior, showing animals native to Michigan and in residence at The Howell Nature Center's Wild Wonders Park. The interior has been developed to contain engaging images along with educational facts pertaining to Birds of Prey, Michigan Mammals and Creatures of the Night. Alexandria's Nature Bus visits schools, arriving with HNC Naturalists, live animals and hands-on activities aboard the bus. Dick Grant estimates that more than 137,000 people have walked through the bus since they started their programming in April of 2010.
Today schools are lacking the financial ability to provide field trips and extra programs that we once thought as a mainstay in schools. At the same time children are spending less and less time outside in the natural world. To help spark a child’s interest in nature, the Spirit of Alexandria Foundation has been accepting grant applications for Alexandria’s Nature Bus to visit schools since 2009. Since then, 125 different organizations throughout southeastern Michigan have received foundation grants. Grants will be awarded based upon application and number of grants allowed in the foundation's grant cycle.
In 2002, a new concept for park transportation was developed by Alexandria's Grandfather, Jim Bartel, and his company ARBOC Ltd. Throughout the development of this bus Alexandria contributed by evaluating the buses suitability for children. She participated in the unveiling of the prototype in Yellowstone in 2003 and 2004, including a development trip in the winter season. Additional trials were conducted with Alexandria's classmates at Charyl Stockwell Academy. Alexandria's Yellow Bus was transformed into Alexandria's Nature Bus in 2009.
In 2006 the Spirit of Alexandria Foundation was blessed to meet with Jack Shea at the Teton Science Schools, he was sold on our idea immediately. This relationship allowed the foundation to start fulfilling the foundation’s mission. The Teton Science Schools (TSS) has over 40 years’ experience in "Connecting Children to Nature through Learning" and are able to create programs in which they reach areas of Greater Yellowstone where children may not have the opportunity to ever witness one of our greatest treasures.
TSS used the 35-passenger Nature Bus from 2007-2010. Due to the lengthy winter season and narrow roads in the parks, the 35-passenger bus was switched with the foundation’s 15-passenger bus in 2010.
The first program we worked on with TSS using the Nature Bus was The Cross Cultural Exchange Program, started in 2005 by the Yellowstone Foundation. The children in these areas are very poor and do not have the means to visit where their ancestors once lived. The Spirit of Alexandria worked closely with Teton Science Schools from 2007-2012 to give these children access to their family’s past, the program was called The Cross Cultural Exchange Program. This annual experience was developed to bring members from the original tribes, that once lived on the lands now called Yellowstone National Park, back into the park. The goal was to have the tribal members share their heritage with the younger generation in their tribe and explain to Park Rangers why certain aspects of the park have such a great importance to the tribe’s background.
Until the foundation supported the program, transportation consisted of a couple of SUV's, with participants missing out on stories being shared in the other vehicles. To have a single vehicle where everyone could be together throughout the trip was very special and welcomed.
2007 was the foundation's first year supporting this worthy program; members from the foundation traveled with Crow Tribe members throughout Yellowstone. In 2008, members from the Shoshone-Bannock tribe participated and learned about their heritage, traveling throughout the Yellowstone Eco-System. The foundation continued its support in 2009 with the members from the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. In 2012, a reunion was held in Jackson, Wyoming for members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, some of whom were part of the trip into Yellowstone in 2008. With the help of Teton Science Schools, and the foundation’s Nature Bus, a day trip was taken back into the park led by one of the young people from the 2008 trip. Unfortunately, Yellowstone Park has discontinued this program.
In 2014, The Spirit of Alexandria and TSS parted ways, bringing the 15-passenger bus back to Michigan for Howell Nature Center to use. The decision was made because we could reach more children through the current programs we have with HNC.