Four Rivers Receives First Nature Center Accreditation in the Country

Visitors explore the All-Persons Trail at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon. Four Rivers recently received the National Inclusion Project’s first accreditation for a nation center in the country. (Photo by Forest Preserve staff | Cindy Cain)
Visitors explore the All-Persons Trail at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon. Four Rivers recently received the National Inclusion Project’s first accreditation for a nation center in the country. (Photo by Forest Preserve staff | Cindy Cain)

Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon is the first nature center in the country to receive accreditation as an inclusive facility from the National Inclusion Project.

The National Inclusion Project Accredited Program status announced on Monday, Nov. 13, means Four Rivers has met the standards set by the organization for inclusive practices for individuals with disabilities.

“Expert review of written documentation, program materials, and on-site observation found that Four Rivers met the highest standards for including all community members,” said Dr. Amanda Kloo, director of Inclusive Recreation at the National Inclusion Project. “Four Rivers is not only the flagship inclusion-accredited environmental education center in your community, it is the flagship inclusion-accredited environmental education center in the United States!”

Jerome Gabriel, the Forest Preserve’s facility supervisor at Four Rivers, said experiencing the natural world shouldn’t be reserved only for those who can easily access it.

“It should be a universal opportunity for everyone,” he said. “The Four Rivers staff want every person, regardless of ability, to be able to interact with the exhibits, programs and educational opportunities that we provide to the public.”

Welcoming of everyone

The accreditation process has allowed Four Rivers staff to learn what it means to truly be inclusive, and then use that knowledge to provide a better experience for visitors, Gabriel said.

“For families that may have been hesitant to bring a member out to Four Rivers, this accreditation can give them the peace of mind that this facility is welcoming of everyone regardless of ability level,” Gabriel said. “They know their family member will be not only be welcomed, but will be able to interact with our exhibits, have trails to explore and programs to learn from.”

The same is true for teachers and day program directors, he added.

Inclusion items at Four Rivers feature buddy bags, a quiet space, an All-Persons Trail, paved trails, an exhibit guide, custom communication/talking boards and easy-viewing spotting scopes.

Also, the site offers: a custom visual schedule creator; screen reader enabled PDFs; program/event accommodations; social story digital narratives for the facility staff and programs; live captioning during presentations; monthly Sensory Sunday programs; inclusive field trips for public, private, homeschool, therapeutic day school and adult day programs; and a pre-visit walkthrough video.

For more information on accessibility and inclusion at the site, visit the Four Rivers FAQ webpage. For more information on the Forest Preserve District of Will County, visit ReconnectWithNature.org.

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