Library Wins Environmental Initiative Award for Nature-Smart Partnership

Renovated in 2014, Sun Ray Library is changing the way the community thinks about literacy, environmental stewardship, and youth leadership

The Saint Paul Public Library was honored on May 26 at the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards Ceremony for its unique partnership with the Children & Nature Network making Sun Ray Library a community hub of nature learning and recreation. Completely renovated in 2014 in a public/private partnership with funds from The Friends’ capital campaign, A New Legacy of Learning, Sun Ray Library transformed both its physical environment and programming to serve as a place for families to learn and engage with nature.

“Collaboration isn’t always easy. This project is a wonderful example of what can be accomplished for our environment, for our youth, and for Minnesota families when we choose to work together,” said Environmental Initiative’s Executive Director, Mike Harley.

To realize the goals of the project—to increase the community’s engagement with nature—the library worked with the Children & Nature Network to convene more than 60 civic, business, education and youth leaders, as well as residents of the library’s Conway Park neighborhood, for a series of community meetings. The purpose of these meetings was to generate ideas for transforming the Sun Ray Library and adjacent Conway Park into a nature-rich community hub. The resulting community environmental action plan produced several notable outcomes for the community:

  • The library now has 18 Nature Adventure Backpacks on different themes with a variety of environmental tools, activities, fiction and non-fiction books, being checked out by children and families for nature-based education and engagement
  • Library staff now run 48 environmental activities for youth that address 12 themes
  • “Story Walks” (story pages on stakes throughout the park) are inspiring families to read from the library doors along the park trail to further develop the connection between outdoor and indoor spaces.
  • Ten volunteers from the Young Mentors Group attended a 2-day leadership training program to develop a plan for a Natural Leaders Legacy Camp where 50 regional youth will be trained as Twin Cities Natural Leaders
  • A pollinator garden was installed and is being maintained on library land in partnership with the University of Saint Thomas, Wells Fargo Bank, and Urban Roots

“We’re used to thinking of reading and learning as something we do inside,” said Rebecca Ryan, library manager. “Our natural library is connecting young people and families to the outdoors in a really unique way by pairing the imagination of reading with exploration in nature.”

Through the project, local elected officials have become more aware of the importance of green space to the community, Conway Park has increased its tree canopy, the library grounds now boast a thriving pollinator garden, and the Sun Ray Library has outreach tools for environmental education and engagement with youth and families. Because of community involvement in this project, there is a continuing commitment by city and community organizations to tree planting and pollinator garden support, as well as momentum toward an overall master plan for Conway Park. Beyond its local impact, the project has proven to be a viable national model for engaging diverse urban communities in library-based greening and educational efforts.

Project Partners

  • City of Saint Paul Department of Parks and Recreation
  • Children & Nature Network
  • Urban Roots
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • Wells Fargo
  • National Geographic
  • Lawal Scott Erickson Architects Inc.
  • Plum Landing: WGBH/PBS Kids
  • Sun Ray Young Mentor’s Group
  • St. Thomas University

The Environmental Initiative Awards are presented by the Environmental Initiative, nonprofit organization that builds partnerships among leaders from business, nonprofits, government, academia and more, to share ideas and diverse perspectives on pressing environmental issues, and develop collaborative solutions to Minnesota’s environmental problems. Started in 1994, the Awards annually honor innovative projects that have achieved extraordinary environmental results by harnessing the power of partnership.

A New Legacy of Learning was launched in 2011, and successfully completed in 2015.  The City of Saint Paul contributed $7 million in public funds and The Friends raised $7.4 million in private funds, for a total of $14.4 million for the Sun Ray, Highland Park, and George Latimer Central Library renovations.

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