Donate Online


In 1963, Mrs. Elizabeth Upton Vawter and her husband William bought 130 acres of land along what is now the River Trail. Their idea was to create a nature sanctuary similar to what they had seen at other area nature centers. After purchasing the land they contacted the Michigan Audubon Society to ask them to take possession of the land and manage it as a nature center, and Michigan Audubon Society immediately accepted. At the request of the Vawters, the nature center was named after Mr. Lew Sarett, a childhood friend of Mr. Vawter. Mr. Sarett, who grew up in Benton Harbor, was a well-known naturalist, poet, Native American expert, and professor of speech at Northwestern University.

During the first years the emphasis at Sarett was creating a number of ponds and developing a system of trails. In 1967, the first environmental education class was held at Sarett. It was taught by volunteers and had eight students. During each subsequent year, new programs were added. During that year, over three thousand students came to Sarett for environmental education programs.

The environmental education programs at Sarett have continued to grow and expand throughout the years. The nature center now offers a wide variety of half day and whole day ecology programs to area schools. In addition, the staff at Sarett has developed a number of unique programs for area students including classes in the summer, a traveling naturalist program, home school programs and scout programs.

Area students are not the only ones who have an opportunity to learn at Sarett. Over the years Sarett has developed a number of programs for adults. Night and weekend classes in bird biology, snowshoe making, plant identification, nature craft classes and many other subjects are offered each year. Sarett also sponsors weekend programs for adults and children alike. These programs include nature videos, guest lectures, slide programs, nature hikes and many others.

A final aspect of Sarett’s environmental education offering is natural history tours. Each year, Sarett organizes and leads a number of tours to the most exciting natural locations in the United States and the world. Groups have traveled with Sarett to such captivating destinations such as Africa, New Zealand, Belize, the Caribbean, Scandinavia and the Galapagos Islands. Through visiting these natural areas and seeing the incredible beauty that nature has to offer, these people often come home with a new appreciation for nature and a renewed resolve to preserve the world’s remaining natural areas.

Sarett hasn’t stopped expanding in the last decade either. In 2008, Sarett expanded the main building to include a great room, conference room, new kitchen and two new classrooms. No more than a year later, the Treetop Walkway was built, a 55-foot tall lookout tower over the Paw Paw River Valley. In 2011, Sarett opened the Butterfly House. The Butterfly House is home to hundreds of butterflies from May-October and can be visited for a small fee. In 2014, the completion of the Nature Play Area allows children to connect with nature, through nature-made or inspired play equipment.