In 1961, the Lansing School District, recognizing the value of education in the out-of-doors, initiated a voluntary camping program using sites in the Yankee Springs Recreation Area. In the years that followed, interest in the camping program increased to the point where teachers and school officials determined a need to expand the program and initiated the search for a suitable site.
In 1971, the Lansing Board of Education located the 158-acre tract of land between Wayland, Michigan and Gun Lake that was to become the Ebersole Center. In 1972, the property was purchased from Gladys Olds Anderson of Lansing. Construction of the center began in 1976 and was completed in July 1977.
The center site was chosen for its unique natural diversity and proximity to 40,000 acres of state land. Features include a spring-fed lake located entirely on the property, one of the state's most pristine fens, a beech-maple forest, a glacial kame, and the remnants of an oak savannah turned to farmland. At the time of its purchase, there was nothing like it closer to Lansing, and planners felt it was unique in the state for having such amazing diversity in one 158-acre parcel.
The "Lansing School District Environmental Education Center" opened July 11, 1977 and began offering a series of summer sessions including: backyard history, environmental science and mathematics, landscape drawing/natural detail, man depends on nature, creative writing and a scouting merit badge program.
The first years were challenging-- developing programs, putting in boardwalks trails, and "working the bugs out". The staff and teachers persevered, with unhampered enthusiasm, to develop a unique outdoor education program.
In 1981, budget cuts throughout the school district forced reorganization of the center. District-wide science and environmental education programs were down-sized.
Vernon D. Ebersole, a Lansing school board member for over thirty years, stood by the center through difficult economic times insisting that outdoor education programs were too important to lose. On February 2, 1984, the center was officially renamed the Vernon D. Ebersole Environmental Education and Conference Center in honor of his vision and support.
Vernon D. Ebersole
In 1986, over two miles of boardwalk trails were completed, making the wetland areas wheelchair accessible. A new fishing dock was installed, and the canoe dock was replaced with a larger, permanent structure. Three "team initiative courses" were built and two bird feeding/ observation stations were rebuilt. Old fiberglass canoes were replaced by sixteen shiny, new aluminum canoes.
A fourteen panel solar heating system was installed on the main lodge in 1991. the system heats water in the summer and helps to heat the room during the colder months of the year. Also in 1991, a more challenging cross country ski trail was cut and developed and the prairie was burned and then planted with a variety of native seeds.
In 2003, the Ebersole Foundation was established to assist the Ebersole Center in land acquisition, capital improvements, stewardship activities, program development, and to subsidize the cost of camp attendance.
In 2009, Ebersole Foundation completed a very ambitious capital campaign. Almost $600,000 was raised in order to purchase an 80-acre farm adjacent to the Ebersole Center property. This purchase will keep the farm as green space and help buffer the center from urban sprawl. The acquisition of the farm will also open a new chapter in Ebersole Center programming enabling additional environmental programming as well as the possibility of agriculture education programs.