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Exploring Our Own Backyard

The James A. McFaul Environmental Center

Tucked away in a quiet, residential area of Wyckoff is the James A. McFaul Environmental Center, a wildlife sanctuary where all plants and animals therein are protected.

Manager Michele Schaper and her staff live the mission of the Center each day: educating the public on the native flora and fauna of New Jersey, in particular, Bergen County. “We specialize in classes for children in Pre-K through 6th grade,” says Michele. “We also hold classes for homeschoolers, high school students, and senior groups. But our focus is geared toward catching the attention of younger kids and helping them develop an interest in the environment.”

The Center offers 3-day children’s summer workshops covering different environmental topics such as weather, animals, Native American life, trees and plants. Hayride tours are a crowd pleaser and there are plenty of crafting projects using recycled or upcycled materials. Classes are kept small to maintain an interactive, hands-on environment. Their Global Warriors sustainability class highlights concepts on what children can do to help preserve natural resources through upcycling projects. 

Michele and her staff draw interest and engagement from thousands of guests who visit the Center each year.  Special programs include their annual maple sugaring demonstration and pancake breakfast held each March. Other planned events include a “Shellebration” on May 23 from 1-3 p.m., which happens to be National Turtle Day. The event will include crafts, games, turtle identification and awareness. The Center’s “Pollination Celebration” is on June 27 from 1-3 p.m. and will feature pollinator walks with a naturalist, games, “meet a beekeeper,” and information about keeping a hive. Pollinators include native birds, insects, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

One of two Bergen County centers run by the County of Bergen Parks Department, the Environmental Center spreads over 81 acres of land in Wyckoff. It shares animal services and resources with the Bergen County Zoo at Van Saun County Park. Although not an animal “rescue” facility, the Environmental Center is a home for animals that can no longer be released into the wild. However, Michele and her staff are more than happy to give advice or answer questions on wildlife issues and are able to refer residents to local services or animal rehabilitation centers. “Even if you find a raccoon in your attic,” jokes Michele. “Just be sure to call first so that we can give you the proper referrals and instructions in order to bring the proper aid to the bird or animal.”

The pond on the property features a variety of fish, frogs, and turtles. Take a walk near the fallen logs and check out the turtles sunning themselves on any given spring day. Fitness fanatics can get their steps in by walking or running along the main drive that circles the property. One loop will log you nine-tenths of a mile on your Fitbit. The nature trail is two-thirds of a mile through the woods.

An ongoing challenge at the Center is dealing with the overpopulation of deer. "Deer control the direction the ecosystem goes. They do so much damage to the undergrowth and that affects other species," says Michele. "We live alongside them and try to plant deer-resistant plants when we can!" 

“We concentrate on educating kids about our local wildlife,” says Michele. “We want kids to notice and explore what’s in their own backyard.”

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