By RJ Walters / For the Jackson Citizen Patriot
Thom Baird taught science in the Grass Lake School District for 41 years, but those who weren’t touched by his instruction will be able to see what the man was all about for years to come.
Baird retired in June, but he will forever be part of the high school property with his contributions to the Thom Baird Grass Lake Nature Center, which was dedicated in his honor Tuesday.From his first years in the district, Baird said he always liked the idea of having a nature area for students to enjoy and explore. At the elementary school was the Bob Teft Nature Center, founded by one of his colleagues, and Baird had a vision of bringing native prairie grasses to the high school lot.
“Being a science educator, I was always outside and kind of aware of the natural grasses. And I thought it would be nice to bring back, to at least a certain area, the original grasses that were here when the pioneers came,” Baird said. “Some of those grasses are taller than I am now.”
Baird was making his dream a reality when the high school broke ground on a new building in 2002, but construction forced him to change plans.
“When they told me they were going to take a large section of what we had already established, in the same breath they said, ‘Don’t worry, it will get better.’ So they took, but they gave back twice as much,” he said.
“This to some people just looks like a wild mess, but it is actually an attempt to get the land back to a natural prairie state.”
The nature center connects with the one at the elementary school and is home to a one-mile walking trail, native plants, a pond, bridge, birds and butterflies.
Baird said he raised almost $30,000 to construct the facility, and now the school board ensures the trails are maintained and that controlled burns take place every three years.
Grass Lake Superintendent Brad Hamilton said he believes his district is as pretty as they come, and Baird is a big reason why.
“Thom was persistent and that’s what I liked about it,” he said. “He made sure the board put some money toward it each year, and he didn’t let this project die. When you walk these trails and see the butterflies around here, you realize how beautiful it is.”