Monday, April 20, 2015

Perception of Place: Developing an Outdoor Center

Guest blog post by Caroline Harris, City of Orange Beach Wind & Water Learning Center Manager and Instructor. Caroline has been with the Center ever since they opened their doors in May of 2013. She holds her ACA Level 1 Kayaking instructor certification, and is currently pursing her Level 2. She also has her US Sailing Small Boat Instructor certification. Caroline graduated from Tulane University with a bachelors in Political Science, and loves all things outdoors!

Monday mornings, 8:30 am sharp, I look through my office window and see kids donning colorful lifejackets and sand covered water shoes running down the gravel driveway with the smell of sunscreen lingering in the air. It is 98 degrees outside and summer is here. Excitement and expectation intermingles with hesitancy and fears of the unknown in the kids’ minds. They are already exploring the grounds and proudly pointing out the sailing or paddling vessels that they will be captain of for the week. I think of how proud I am to offer on-water programs that allow for personal growth, confidence building, and awareness of our unique coastal environment to both residents and visitors. 

One of our major undertakings of 2014 was establishing a paddling program that incorporates kayaking and kayak fishing classes affiliated with the American Canoe Association (ACA). For the paddling program’s inaugural year, the response was positive. To date in 2015, we have held a multitude of “Quickstart Your Kayak” classes, Coastal Navigation classes, Level I and Level 2 instructor certification classes, and Boy Scout kayaking merit badge clinics. Additional offerings include our popular youth Summer Sail Camp in which over 250 kids enrolled last summer; students learn water safety, knot tying, proper sail trim, tacking & jibing, and more.

We are committed to preserving and continuing to develop a sense of place at the Wind and Water Learning Center located in Orange Beach, Alabama. How does the concept of a “sense of place” resonate with you? For some, a sense of place is associated with concrete, geographical features and settings. Others attribute to the place a perception that fosters a positive sense of belonging or recognition. The Wind and Water Learning Center sustains and maintains both a special physical location and a place that creates lifelong memories. The Center is situated on a beautiful back bay setting with towering pines planted behind a white sand shoreline, yet it is embedded with stories and experiences from generations of students, young and old. Students are introduced to coastal birds and mammals such as the great blue heron, brown pelican, osprey, and bottlenose dolphin while engaging in our sailing and paddling classes. These encounters with our coastal wildlife are an integral part of what we offer.

The Wind and Water Learning Center’s greatest accomplishment has been sharing this sense of place. For me, it's about watching kids grow and younger siblings aging into our programs the following year; attracting visitors into our City and showcasing our properties; and accommodating an entire family and having something everyone can do. Most of all, it's about building a community. I am preserving a place that fosters an appreciation of coastal stewardship, memories, and traditions for generations to come.

For more information, please visit

No comments:

Post a Comment