WILLIAMSTON, Mich. (WLNS) – Though you wouldn’t be able tell just by looking at it, a Williamston couple’s home has an entire nature center through its doors.
Since meeting in Chicago when they were just teenagers, Jim and Carol McGrath have dedicated themselves to wildlife.
In their backyard caterpillars grow and form cocoons, and turtles sunbathe and swim in a miniature pool. Taking care of the dozens of reptiles and amphibious critters is just a part of their daily routine.
As partners they run Nature Discovery, a Michigan-centric nature reserve and education program where people can visit their home and have a hands-on experience with more than 40 different species of Michigan snakes, turtles, lizards and frogs.
The program has been growing since Jim McGrath first began it as far back as 1987. The couple moved from Illinois to Michigan when Jim McGrath attended Michigan State and never looked back.
Jim McGrath always loved nature, ever since he was a little kid running around outdoors collecting insects.
Witnessing his favorite places to explore being replaced and paved over made him passionate about trying to educate people about what they were missing out on thanks to industrial construction.
“I was seeing environmental destruction. My favorite places to catch butterflies – suddenly, they’d be totally devastated for an apartment complex. By the time I was a teenager, I realized people didn’t know what they were destroying,” McGrath said. “I thought, ‘This is what I need to do with my life.’”
The McGraths frequently take Nature Discovery on the road, traveling across the Midwest, providing fun presentations to students of all ages, from kindergarten to high school.
Kids get to hold snakes and feed bullfrogs, which are capable of leaping halfway across the room when they get excited.
Carol McGrath said providing a highly interactive nature experience with people helps foster a connection between them and the natural wildlife that lives and grows around them.
She believes that connection helps inspire people to be more conscious of their environment and may help spur them to take more steps to protect it.
“That’s the way to reach people. Once they know about the wonderful living resources we have in Michigan and the diversity of life, they feel more connected to it. They want to see its continued existence. Plus, the more you know about them, the more interest your time is outside. It makes going outside for a walk more fun,” Carol McGrath said.
Visitors to Nature Discovery, which is appointment only, can check out a huge variety of Michigan reptiles. In addition to learning all about them and where to find them, guests can also handle the reptiles too – if they’re brave enough.
While feeding a bullfrog, Jim McGrath explains how excited kids get when they get up and close to the animals.
Especially when the frog leaps a few feet into the air and begins to hop across the floor.
“We encourage people to get their hands in there,” Jim McGrath said.
To learn more about Nature Discovery, and check out the McGrath’s monthly nature newsletter, visit naturediscovery.net/