The mission of The Wilderness Center is to connect our community with nature, educate people of all ages, conserve natural resources, and practice environmental stewardship.
Thanks to a humble beginning with the estate of Charlie Sigrist and attorney, retired U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, Dr. Charles King from Malone College and Arnold Fritz, president of the Canton Audubon Society, The Wilderness Center (TWC) has grown from a dream into a community treasure. Dr. Charles King and Arnold Fritz saw the need for a nature center in northeast Ohio. Although they didn’t yet have money to make an offer, when they found out about the Sigrist land, they approached Regula with interest, hope and a concept.
King and Fritz saw that property could effectively serve the surrounding areas, but learned that a strip mining company also interested. Regula cared deeply about the environment and wanted to preserve the property’s pristine forests, so he requested a grant from the Timken Foundation to assist King and Fritz with the formation of TWC. The Timken Foundation donated $67,500 for the purchase of the Sigrist lands and the adjacent Warstler property. The Stark County Foundation, the Canton Garden Center, Dr. Tom Soehnlen and Bernice McKenzie Frease, a state representative, also contributed toward the purchase.
The first professional staff began working in 1965 and in 1974, TWC constructed the Interpretive Building located on the 600 acre Headquarters property in Wilmot, Ohio. The building continues to provide a focal point for the Center’s many activities. In addition to its Interpretive Building, TWC’s headquarters today boast 10 miles of hiking trails, an Astronomy Education Building featuring a digital planetarium and observatory, a Native Plant Nursery and a Nature Playscape. TWC is open to the public year round and admission is free. There have been four executive directors in TWC’s more than 50-year history. Jeremy Felland served as the first leader of the organization, followed in 1981 by Gordon Maupin. Dr. Jeffrey R. Corney assumed the role in 2014 and Jeanne M. Gural was appointed to the position in 2019.
The Wilderness Center remains relevant and continues to stay ahead of the curve in terms of its involvement in environmental science education and land conservation. The Center’s commitment to the community has been constant, say those who have been involved with it.
TWC’s Education Department today serves more than 14,300 individuals each year. TWC held 860 educational programs in 2017 and served 110 local schools.
TWC’s Conservation Department protects 4,300 acres in seven counties including 3,000 acres of woodland, 500 acres of wetland and 14 miles of freshwater streams. What started as a mere 324 acres in 1964 has become more than 1,400 acres of forest, meadow, wetland and prairie in seven counties. TWC operates a revolving land fund to assist other organizations obtain critical parcels of land. In this way, TWC has become an important community collaborator.