Volunteer with Us

The Nature Institute is adding new volunteer opportunities for our amazing community to come alongside in restoring this natural area, making it a shining example of healthy ecosystems and biodiversity. Check out some of the new opportunities below and let us know your interest in helping out with your time and hard work.

It takes a very dedicated person to run a greenhouse. Spending multiple hours in a day to collect, separate, and plant seeds; watering and tending to plants. The Nature Institute is fortunate to have several volunteers to help us get our greenhouse up and running. Dubbed the “Greenhouse Gang”, the volunteer group works hard to ensure the St. Louis Metro East community has local access to native plants.

In 2014, funds were met for the purchase of the greenhouse. TNI’s stewardship team erected the structure near Cypress Pond. Since then volunteers began collecting seed from the Hutchinson Bird Sanctuary and the Heartland Prairie, both managed by TNI. The first community sale was held in 2016 and continues to grow year after year. Thousands of native prairie plants found homes and all proceeds raised went straight back into TNI’s mission of preservation, restoration, and education.

The Nature Institute collects a small percentage of the seeds put out by plants in Hutchinson Prairie, the Mississippi Sanctuary Hill Prairie, and throughout the woodlands. We then use those seeds in bulk mixes to increase the biodiversity of the forests and prairies and plant some in the greenhouse in the spring to grow into plants that can be sold to increase the number of native plants in the community and planted on site in specific locations. The decision to use seeds in bulk mixes or to grow them in the greenhouse is determined each year based on the rarity of the plant in question, if we have a need for it in certain locations, and what we think the public would like to buy for their yard.

Seed collection is a very time-consuming endeavor and we appreciate your interest in helping with this task. In 2023, we will dedicate each Thursday morning starting August 24 to seed collection with the Stewardship Director and other staff spending time collecting seeds from a plant of interest. We invite anyone to come join us on those days from 9am to 11am.

  • August 24
  • August 31
  • September 7
  • September 14
  • September 28
  • October 5
  • October 12

The Nature Institute will provide all materials needed for seed collection, but if you have a pair of garden gloves that you prefer you will want to bring them with you. Also be sure to bring a water bottle. Since you will be trekking off trail into tall plants, we suggest everyone wear long pants and close toed shoes. You may also choose to wear a long sleeve shirt and wide brimmed hat when we collect in the prairie.

We will give you one or two types of plants to collect seed from and make sure that you know exactly what you are looking for and how to collect those seeds. So even if you feel like your plant identification skills are rusty, we will get you trained before each session so that you feel confident collecting with us.

The Nature Institute is seeking individuals that enjoy making beautiful gardens for people to enjoy. We have 2 small gardens and one larger garden full of native plants that could use to tender loving care throughout the spring and summer.  We would love for people to adopt a garden that they commit to weeding as needed and suggesting plant additions from year to year. The beautifying crews will need to bring their own hand tools. If this sounds like a winning idea for you please let us know.

  • Greenhouse Garden – This garden was planted about 4 years ago and has large established plants. It tends to look a little wild most of the year. Volunteers that adopt this garden will be tasked with “taming” the plants so that it looks more like a small, manicured garden that could go in front of a person’s house. This garden is accessible anytime that works for your schedule.
  • Kiosk Garden – This garden was planted about 2 years ago and has well established plants and some weeds growing in it as well. Volunteers that adopt this garden will be asked to weed that garden on a semi-regular basis and suggest plants to add each year. This garden is a challenge because the plants need to stay somewhat short so that they do not block the sign. We would like this garden to resemble a mailbox garden. This garden is accessible anytime that works for your schedule.
  • Mississippi Sanctuary Garden – This large garden is newly planted and needs lots of care while it gets established. Starting in Mid-August we will be watering it every other or every third day and then as needed as we get into the fall. This garden also needs lots of hands helping to weed it. This garden is meant to be like a large backyard garden with plants that bloom at different times of different colors and heights. This garden is only accessible during the week between 8:30am and 3:30pm so individuals that work in this garden will need to be available during the workday.

We are always looking for volunteers to work special events. Our main event that needs volunteers each year is Enchanted Forest. You will be teaching children about the wonders of wildlife during the event. Volunteers with special events have a variety of tasks they can choose from and since it is generally just once a year you don’t have to commit to a lot of time, just a few hours on one evening.

Opportunities Still to Come

The Nature Institute has had bluebird boxes up around the property for many years and the birds have successfully raised many babies over the years. We are hoping to learn more about the birds that use our nest boxes with the help of Nest Watch volunteers. Project Nest Watch is a research project hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where citizen scientists adopt a nest box to watch through out the nesting season. These volunteers will check on the boxes, count eggs, track their progress and report that information to the Cornell Lab at the end of the season you will be tasked with cleaning out the bird box by removing unused nests. Removing old material keeps the boxes from harboring parasites and other things over the winter.

  • We would love to start monitoring our stream health on a more regular basis. We will be looking for volunteers to complete IL Riverwatch Training and adopt one of the creeks on the property.

If you’re interested in donating your time or talent to The Nature Institute, please fill out the form below and we will get in touch with you in the next 3-5 business days. Thank you for your time.

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  • Morning, Afternoon, or Evening What days of the week work best for you?