Environmental Learning Center

Environmental Learning Center


Founded in 1988 by a group of environmentally conscious pioneers

George Bunnell & Maggy Bowman 1

Our Past

The Environmental Learning Center was founded in 1988 by a group of environmentally conscious pioneers from the Pelican Island Audubon Society, who lived in our community and cherished the nature that thrives in the Indian River Lagoon. Through the support of our community, donors, members, board, staff and volunteers we were able to build our nature learning and stewardship programs and evolve our mission to bring nature to all including those with limited means and access to nature.

They had a mission to preserve a beautiful, unspoiled 64-acre Indian River Lagoon island and create a place to lead educational programs and EcoAdventures which teach our visitors about the rich biodiversity of our Indian River Lagoon and the importance of its heritage, preservation and continued legacy in our community and in our world.

George BunnellGeorge Bunnell

ELC Founder
February 5, 1924 – May 10, 2005

George Bunnell was committed to bringing people together in the environment to experience Florida’s beauty. George was not only a statesman, but a true outdoorsman. He enjoyed sharing his passion for the Indian River Lagoon with others. Whether he was hunting, fishing or sitting on the shore with his wife, Millie, George was passionate about not only preserving the beauty of the lagoon, but also educating others about its importance.

George was raised right next to the Chesapeake Bay, where he and his brother would swim, fish and hunt. He carried his love for water wherever he went. His father graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, and George served in the Navy in World War II. After graduating college, George became a successful businessman, selling marine equipment. When he arrived in Florida in 1958, his love for the water and environment grew even more. He married Vero Beach native, Millie Carter Frasier four years later.

George served for 14 years as a councilman during the formation of Indian River Shores. His knowledge and interest of natural Florida habitats helped with the council’s agenda. Soon after, George was appointed as coordinator of the Matching Aid to Restore States Habitat. He also served for 12 years as commissioner on the governing board of the Florida Inland Navigation District. When he retired, he began volunteering and started what he came to call his true life’s work. 

George joined forces with Holly Dill, the first Executive Director of the ELC. They envisioned a campus that would teach us all about the lagoon around us, and ways in which people can preserve it. In an article from the Indian River Press Journal, Holly states, “He was a man of vision and energy. He was our greatest cheerleader.”

Maggy BowmanMaggy Bowman

ELC Founder
March 13, 1914-February 8, 2006

Maggy grew up in Rhinebeck, New York, where after she graduated, taught primitive camping to Girl Scouts. When World War II began, she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corp as a cryptographer. Maggy married at the age of 42 on her lunch hour. In 1964, Maggy and her husband moved to Vero Beach and became involved with founding the Pelican Island Audubon Society. 

Maggy was President of the Pelican Island Audubon Society, an environmental advocate, avid birder and educator. She also served as County Commissioner. She was one of the original founders of the Pelican Island Audubon Society in 1961 and she also helped found the Marine Resources Council in 1991.

Maggy saw a need for environmental education in Indian River County, not only for the public school system but also for the general public. In 1987, the Indian River County Commission agreed to lease public land where the facility would be built, only if the ELC would raise funding to operate the center for the public’s use.  The ELC later facilitated their relationship with the Indian River County School District. The School Board agreed to send elementary school students to the ELC once it was operational. She helped found the ELC in 1988 and served on the official board for two terms.

Her greatest interest at the ELC was Environmental Education. She thought that children learned better through hands-on, feet-wet activities and was passionate about fostering a child’s care for the environment. When she passed, the ELC created the Maggy Bowman Scholarship Fund to provide financial assistance to those who wanted to attend educational programs and summer camps.

Holly DillHolly Dill

First Executive Director

Holly Dill was the ELC’s first permanent Executive Director. She held the position for over 25 years. Before her time at the ELC, Holly was a long-range planner for Palm Beach County, Fl and Teton County, Wy