By Cameron McClelland

The Nature Academy is focused on training a new generation of environmental leaders in sustainability, conservation, and ecological restoration. As part of the Nature Academy program, each intern writes a blog post and develops a project. The project provides an opportunity to take on responsibility in an area of interest, contribute to the goals of their team, and develop a skill or area of knowledge that can be added to the intern’s portfolio. The post may reflect the project or be a nature-related topic of personal interest to the intern.

At Matthaei-Nichols we host an abundance of events, both public and private. For me, one of the most enjoyable types of private events to help out with and observe is weddings. Many of our beautiful outdoor areas (along with the indoor conservatory) provide an excellent natural backdrop for that special and memorable day. 

Getting ready for wedding-perennial garden

Weddings are also an important source of revenue for Matthaei-Nichols. During the summer months, we usually host several weddings every week, and sometimes even multiple weddings in a single day.

With all this in mind, the question arises as to what role staff and student interns have in helping bring our wedding parties’ dreams of their happiest day to life, while also ensuring that all of our other visitors enjoy their time here. One of our principal responsibilities as staff is to be curators of the nature spaces around us so that as many people as possible can enjoy their beauty. The mission statement behind our organization is in fact “promoting environmental enjoyment, stewardship and sustainability through education, research and interaction with the natural world.”

This duality brings into question the role of private events like weddings in our public outdoor spaces. If our main goal is to provide an authentic experience of nature for our visitors, then why do we privatize some of these spaces for select groups of people at certain times? An even bigger question might be: why do we privatize any natural area if nature— or at least the nature at Matthaei-Nichols—is ultimately something to be enjoyed and shared communally?

Beyond the tension that might exist between profit-seeking and public enjoyment, I believe that leasing our spaces for weddings and other events can also be celebrated as a powerful way to help people establish and sustain a long-lived connection to our organization and to nature. 

Devin Brines Photography

Photo: Devin Brines Photography.

As part of my internship, I host many of the weddings that happen on our grounds, and help to ensure that the wedding party’s special day runs smoothly. For most people, their wedding day is one of the happiest of their lives, so it’s important to help make this day as easy as possible for the couple and their family and guests. 

Weddings Here = Lifetime Connection with Matthaei-Nichols
Celebrating that big day at Matthaei-Nichols helps people form a special lifetime bond and a sense of connection with our properties. Many of our visitors have shared with me how they had their own weddings here many years ago and how they’ve been coming back ever since. To me, this exhibits an important and often overlooked facet of environmental stewardship—the stewardship of people within nature.

Bride and groom-perennial garden

Oftentimes, the focal point of environmental stewardship is the preservation and protection of natural areas in relation to human activities. I would argue however that an equally important consideration in this regard is fostering an appreciation and respect for non-invasive uses of natural areas by humans. When nature is treated as less of an abstract location that is too delicate to tolerate human usage and more of a communal gathering space to be enjoyed respectfully, people gain a deeper appreciation for the natural areas around them.  

For the short amount of time that these private events inhabit our public natural spaces, the lifelong personal ties they sow with event participants and the revenue that they bring in to help support our mission far outweigh the costs. Additionally, we refrain from hosting multiple weddings at one time, meaning that a majority of our natural spaces will always be available for the public to use. 


While the privatization of natural space may not seem ideal from a public standpoint, it provides a unique opportunity for people to form a strong connection with our spaces and with nature as a whole.

Cameron McClelland, from Clarkston, Mich., is a rising junior majoring in economics and communication studies at the University of Michigan with a minor in Spanish. His hobbies/interests include hiking, mountain biking, and playing the trumpet.

Cameron McClelland