June 11, 2007

SIUC's Touch of Nature unveils new facilities

by Christi Mathis


CARBONDALE, Ill. – A Southern Illinois University Carbondale gem now shines even brighter with today's dedication of attractive new amenities at the Touch of Nature Environmental Center.

Three new state-of-the-art cabins further enhance the outdoor learning site, which offers therapeutic recreation, environmental education, outdoor adventure, field research, personal and interpersonal developmental programs and much more. University officials participating in the dedication ceremonies included SIU President Glenn Poshard and Sam Goldman, a member of the SIU Board of Trustees.

State Sen. William R. Haine, D-Alton, secured $412,000 in state discretionary funds over the last two fiscal years for construction of the "super cabins" and demolition of a condemned washhouse and five decades-old cabins. The cabins, capable of housing 70 campers, fell victim to time and the elements despite regular maintenance, according to David L. Gename, associate director of Touch of Nature. The new cabins in Camp 1 can each house up to 24 campers and feature air conditioning and heating for year-round use.

"I requested these funds because of the use of this camp by many children in Southern Illinois, including my region in southwest Illinois," Haine said. "It was an effort to improve a great environmental center for children and adults in southwestern Illinois and Southern Illinois."

Poshard noted that Touch of Nature is "one of the most historic properties" attached to the University.

"The mission of serving special needs children for nearly 50 years now, at Camp Little Giant and in other activities throughout the year, is one of the most important missions we have as a university," he said. "Our ability to modernize this facility has been greatly enhanced over the years by the Jewish Federation and many committed legislators such as Sen. Haine. We're extremely grateful to them for this extraordinary gift, which they have made possible for thousands of children."

Gename also emphasized the importance of Haine's efforts to secure the funding.

"The old cabins were beyond repair. They needed new wiring and windows and had structural problems too," he said. "In 2000, the old washhouse was condemned. We were able to build a new washhouse but we couldn't afford to demolish the old one until now. The new cabins are just beautiful with heating, cooling and everything we need to use them all year long. This will enhance operation of Touch of Nature every week of the year. Sen. Haine really came through for us."

The Jewish Federation of Southern Illinois, Southeastern Missouri and Western Kentucky is a long-time supporter of Touch of Nature and supplied beds and mattresses for the new cabins. The Federation's annual Camp Ben Frankel is Touch of Nature's first event utilizing the new lodging facilities.

"It is a good investment too because the Jewish Federation is very supportive of the camp and has been for decades and this is a great public/private partnership to maintain and improve a wonderful facility," Haine added.

The Jewish Federation's connection to Touch of Nature goes back many years, as they have "forged a relationship that's been beneficial to both," said Steven Low, executive director of the Belleville-based organization. Low attended camp at Touch of Nature himself as a child and gives high marks to the center's environmental educational opportunities. He said Touch of Nature provides a great backdrop for Camp Ben Frankel participants to learn about their religion and heritage and enables campers and visitors of all ages and abilities to experience nature all year long.

Low said it was only natural for the Federation to join Touch of Nature in seeking funding to help improve the facilities as it "benefits us and other non-profits in Southern Illinois and elsewhere. We've been advocates for further development of the area and fortunately, the legislature has agreed with us about what a useful, wonderful facility Touch of Nature is, as they've provided grants to maintain, beautify and improve the facilities."

"We really have kudos for the people who did the work on the buildings," Low added. "They did a fantastic job of building the new cabins."

Goldman, who serves on the board of directors of the Jewish Federation along with the SIU Board of Trustees, also acknowledged the efforts of Haine, Poshard and the Federation's Len Lieberman.

"The new cabins, and an infirmary constructed previously at Camp I, are fine examples of what collaboration and cooperation between the public and private sectors can accomplish," he said.

SIUC Engineering Services designed the new log-cabin style quarters and Plant and Service Operations handled construction.

Touch of Nature, located seven miles south of Carbondale on Giant City Road, traces its origins to the vision of former SIU President Delyte Morris in 1949 for an outdoor laboratory supporting the University's educational mission. By 1951, the vision became Camp Little Giant on 150 acres acquired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The program is the nation's first University-affiliated residential camping program for people with disabilities. Now Touch of Nature Environmental Center encompasses a 3,100-acre site with camps and programs for children and adults all year. The center's mission is enhancing learning, promoting professional development of students and providing high quality educational, research and experiential programs and services to the University and community. For information about Touch of Nature or booking its facilities, call 618/453-1122, ext. 243.