Naturally inclined

Slimy, furry outdoor family fun at Brukner Nature Center

By Andy Hertel

Photo: Hands-on wildlie encounters are part of Brukner Nature Center’s educational programs

Home to multiple annual festivals, a vintage aircraft museum and more than a dozen historical buildings, the greater Troy, Ohio region hosts events for the entire family on a nearly year-round basis. Brukner Nature Center, situated on the Stillwater River, is yet another reason to visit Troy, and worth the short jaunt five miles west of town for any wildlife enthusiast, naturalist or office-dweller seeking a weekend reprieve.

Brukner is a nonprofit preserve whose mission, according to their website, is to promote the appreciation and understanding of wildlife conservation through preservation, education and rehabilitation. Open seven days a week, admission is $2.50 per person or $10 per family, with fees waived on Sundays and free admission available daily for annual members. Six miles of hiking trails are open sunrise to sunset, while the interpretive center is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily, and 12:30 – 5 p.m. Sundays.

“Brukner Nature Center is a privately funded organization,” director Deb Oexmann says. “We receive no tax dollars but rely on memberships, program fees, contributions and grants to support our mission.”

“It’s about wildlife,” she continues. “Nowhere else in the area can you get so close to such a variety of wildlife. We call them our wildlife ambassadors, for they ‘speak’ for all native Ohio species. We have over 50 individuals, from reptiles and amphibians, to possums and squirrels, to a red fox and numerous birds of prey, who are the stars of every program we present.”

Founded by local inventor and philanthropist Clayton J. Brukner in 1974, after purchasing land some 40 years prior, the center includes a 165-acre preserve, a modern interpretive building (renovated in 1998), along with the Iddings log house, built in 1804 and listed on the historical registry as the oldest structure in Miami County still standing at its original site. In addition to founding the nature center, Brukner and a business partner also brought what would become the WACO Aircraft Company to Troy after relocating from Nebraska in the 1920s.

Brukner hosts up to 120,000 visitors per year, with activities including bird watching atop a tree-top vista and an informative wildlife rehabilitation program. Additional activities include a 5K run each spring, a “Haunted Woods” themed event in late October, nature camps for children each summer, and an arts and crafts fundraiser every December. For younger children, hands-on nature programs and birthday parties are also available.

Besides having numerous educational and recreational opportunities, Brukner’s internship program has launched careers in nature and wildlife-based fields, and their current director is living proof of its success.

“I grew up in Kettering and went to Miami University,” she says. “To complete my Master’s degree, I was required to do an internship and found Brukner. To my good fortune, a full-time position was open and I was hired as a teacher naturalist. That was in 1989 and I’ve enjoyed every minute since.”

Highlights of her tenure include working with the diverse local wildlife, but especially educating children. “It’s all about fanning that spark in the next generation,” she says.

For those already established in a career but still interested in getting involved, Brukner offers a variety of volunteer opportunities, as well. Longtime volunteer Kay Fulkner began working at the center after her daughter completed an internship in 1993.

“After she left, I began going out to Brukner to enjoy the hiking trails and wildlife that she had talked about so enthusiastically,” Fulkner says. “One day, a seasoned volunteer invited me to sit in on her Pioneer Home Skills sessions, and help demonstrate to visiting groups of children how to spin and weave as the Iddings family would have in 1804. I was fascinated with the history of the early 19th century and learning about the abilities and resourcefulness of those early homesteaders.”

“I got interested in the programs the trail guides did, and began to observe some of them taking groups of children from local elementary schools on all the different trails,” Fulkner continues. “It was fun to start leading some of those groups and to be able to tell them about the animal ambassadors. Getting to help bring awareness of nature to quantities of young people, from pre-schoolers to teenagers, has been so gratifying to me.”

Her favorite time to volunteer at Brukner is the Haunted Woods event each fall.

“I liked being a trail guide taking groups through the dark woods to see the half dozen or so ‘characters’ dressed up, and showing off some of the special nocturnal critters,” she says. “But in recent years I’ve gotten to play the part of a witch, showing off her snake (the dauntless corn snake), by a witch’s cauldron. As groups come by my station, I tell some basic reptile facts and let anyone who wants to try it pat the snake, so they they see it isn’t slimy or scary.

“A year ago, it was a cold night and I was hiding the snake under a cloak until the right moment to uncover it to show my group,” Fulkner continues. “I didn’t realize it had crawled under my watchband and sleeve to keep warm. When I pulled the cloak back I realized it was going to be a challenge to get him loose. Everyone watching realized it too, but fortunately the group’s trail guide stepped right up, I unclasped the watch band and she helped ease the snake back out of my sleeve, so that his scales wouldn’t be damaged. It was probably the most enjoyed part of the presentation!”

Brukner Nature Center is located at 5995 Horseshoe Bend Rd. in Troy. For directions or for additional information, please call 937.698.6493 visit Volunteering and other inquiries can be directed to


Reach DCP freelance writer Andy Hertel at

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