By Jon King /

The Howell Nature Center is hoping to reopen as soon as they’re legally allowed to do so.

On Wednesday, officials said they were planning a “soft” re-opening to the public on Friday, May 29th, a day after the governor’s current stay-at-home order expires. They said they were working closely with local health officials and were confident with their newly updated health and safety protocols. CEO John “JC” Carlson said that during the “financial fallback” of COVID-19, the community helped them heal through what he called as “abundance of kindness.” In return, Carlson said the Howell Nature Center wanted to provide an opportunity for families to get outside in a healthy and responsible way. “Of course, we want to re-open our gates in the right way that maximizes safety for everyone involved. It’s really important to us that we are as safe as possible not only for our guests, but also for our staff and animals.”

The May 29th target date will give them time to “slowly bring staff and volunteers back and ensure all health and safety COVID-19 mitigation protocols are in place and operational.” Accordingly, they will be operating at a much-reduced capacity to optimize guest and staff safety. That means the Wild Wonders Wildlife Park will be open by reservation only, while the NatureScape and Nature Zone will remain closed temporarily. Also, guests will need to make reservations online so they can closely monitor attendance, while admission will only be accepted digitally, with no cash transactions taking place. Admission will be free for essential workers and their families with proof of employment, with special hours for “our frontline heroes.”

Laura Butler, Director of Wildlife and Education, said they have been using the down time from the COVID shutdown to accomplish previously planned renovations. “Thanks to funds from the e2 Grant (supporting educational and environmental initiatives Worldwide) from Chem-Trend’s parent company Freudenberg, we are finishing Phase One of major renovations to our Wild Wonders Wildlife Park to make the trails more accessible to all visitors. Phase Two will take place in 2021 and focus on environmental educational interpretives. “We are excited to unveil a new landscape that is easier to traverse for parents with strollers and those with mobility challenges.”