The University of Michigan-Dearborn (UM-Dearborn) is a regional university within the University of Michigan system. In 1959, when Ford Motor Company donated 210 acres of the Henry Ford Estate to the University of Michigan for a regional campus in Dearborn, one-third of the donated area was designated as a Natural and Historic Area. The area adjoins Henry Ford's estate, Fair Lane, as well as an extensive acreage of natural habitats on Wayne County property.
Starting in the early 1970s, Dr. Orin Gelderloos and a cadre of students began providing guided environmental study programs for the region's school children and families, a unique commitment by a Michigan university to conduct free environmental outreach to the surrounding community. Full-time staff was appointed in 1979 to coordinate programs and supervise the Environmental Study Area. Over the next two decades, interest in opportunities for school children to explore the natural world with hands-on discovery programs increased substantially. In the mid-1990s, the Legislature of the State of Michigan committed 75% of the funds for the construction of the Environmental Interpretive Center (EIC). An agreement to construct the EIC and set aside 300+ acres as an Environmental Study Area was agreed to by UM-Dearborn and the County of Wayne on January 27, 1998. The EIC officially opened its doors on May 25, 2001. It fulfills the University's goal of educating the communities of southeast Michigan on environmental issues, particularly those related to urban areas.
The Center has had three Directors in its history, Dr. Orin Gelderloos (2001-2009), Dr. David Susko (2009-2020), and Dr. Claudia Walters (2020-present). Since its inception, the EIC has provided environmental interpretation and education to over 230,000 school children and community visitors.
The Rouge River Bird Observatory (RRBO) was housed at the EIC from 2001 until 2018. It was established by Julie Craves in 1992 to explore the importance of urban natural areas to birds. In our rapidly urbanizing world, habitat fragments in metropolitan areas are essential to bird conservation.
The primary focus of the RRBO was to better understand the importance of urban areas as migratory stopover sites for birds. For many bird species, migrations are crucial times in the annual cycle, and events during these periods can have great influence on their populations. Birds traveling thousands of miles on their way to or from breeding and wintering sites need safe places to stop and refuel. Research conducted at the RRBO focused on how birds use urban habitats during migration, whether urban migratory stopovers provide adequate resources, and what resources are most important. Many migrants stop over at the 300-acre mixed-habitat Environmental Study Area during their spring and fall migrations. With the departure of Julie Craves in 2018, active research was discontinued.