If you’re passionate about conservation, you’ve probably had direct experiences with nature that opened your eyes and made you want to protect it. Those experiences are vital to people on an individual level and for the conservation movement overall. But they aren’t easy for people of all backgrounds to come by. Cheryl Miller, by supporting Audubon Rockies’ Community Naturalist program, is helping change that in southwest Colorado.
For Miller, those experiences were provided by her father. As he grew up in a working-class family in urban California, he didn’t experience wild places as a kid until he was awarded a scholarship to attend a summer camp in the San Bernardino mountains. This inspired him to make sure his children’s lives were full of close contact with nature.
And so, Miller’s childhood was filled with days of exploring the rocky Borrego Desert, picking berries in verdant northern California, and seeing aspen change colors in Colorado, where she eventually moved. There, she met her husband, Bud Miller, who shared her passion for the outdoors and helped her further realize its value.
Bud would spend his entire summers in the forest. “He would see things out there that no one else would,” said Miller, like a reintroduced Peregrine Falcon diving after jays in an aspen grove. Through direct observation, he would see how things worked. “Getting that hands-on experience teaches us in a way that a textbook never could. It reaches deep into the soul, beyond just facts.”
This kind of experience, Miller believes, is essential for people and nature to thrive. “As society moves toward dealing with things like climate change, or air and water quality, or any of these big issues, having that relationship with the outdoors is going to be important,” she said.
When her husband passed away, Miller wanted to honor both his and her father’s legacies of connecting people to nature. Her family had always valued education, and her father focused his philanthropy on kids, eventually founding the Just for Kids Foundation. So Miller decided to help as many kids as possible have the kind of experiences with nature that her husband and father had given to her.
In part because her father had worked with Audubon in Arizona, Miller connected with Audubon Rockies’ bird-centric environmental education programs in southwest Colorado. “I think it’s important to get our kids engaged. Birds are a wonderful way to do that. [They’re] a good hook for getting kids outdoors and appreciating the outdoors.”
“Audubon is good about explaining the whole web—that birds need food sources, shelter, they need places where they can safely nest,” she says. “The idea that it’s the whole environment, it’s all these little pieces that make it work so [birds] can survive and thrive.”
Miller recently funded an Audubon environmental education project in Bud’s name in southwest Colorado. This project is designed to pair with classroom learning to allow kids to apply their theoretical lessons to hands-on experience with nature and conservation efforts.
One belief that Miller shares with us at Audubon is that people are part of nature, and birds can help us understand this connection. As we navigate increasingly complex threats to nature, a connection to birds can help guide and inspire people to do what’s best for the Earth.
Through her support for Audubon Rockies, Miller is helping create that connection for thousands of children, just as her husband and father would want.