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Milliken & Company awards Conestee Nature Preserve $10,000 to Sponsor Field Trips for Upstate Students

Local students will experience nature-based learning at the 640-acre wildlife refuge for FREE.

Nearly a thousand Upstate students will have the opportunity to experience immersive educational programs at Conestee Nature Preserve this September thanks to a generous sponsorship from the Milliken & Company Charitable Foundation.

“Milliken is thrilled to support increased access to hands-on learning opportunities for upstate students,” said Danna Vetter, chief marketing officer at Milliken & Company. “By investing in education, we are creating a ripple effect that extends beyond the classroom to build a solid foundation for the future of our communities.”

Since 2023, Conestee Nature Preserve has offered all field trip programs to public school students in the Upstate at no cost. Though this decision eliminated a meaningful and predictable revenue stream for the nonprofit organization, it also eliminated financial barriers for students to access the unique educational adventures offered within the Preserve’s 640 acres.

Waiving the $10/student fee for public school groups has proven to have the desired effect, as the Preserve has considerably increased its field trip programming, thanks to demand skyrocketing. In the 2023-24 school year, nearly 6,000 students, representing seven Upstate counties, have attended a program – an increase of 3,000 students and six counties from before.

“Whether it’s paying for transportation or for a substitute teacher, field trips can often become too expensive for many schools,” said Sarah Whitmire, Education Director at Conestee Nature Preserve. “By removing our field trip fees, more local schools can afford to visit the Preserve. Over the past year, we’ve seen a significant increase in visits from Title 1 schools and schools who have further to travel. This has allowed us to reach students who otherwise would not have been able to partake in the nature-based education programs we offer.”

To cover the cost of the field trips, the Preserve is turning towards monthly sponsorships from philanthropic-minded organizations and corporations such as Milliken & Company. By sponsoring a month of field trips, the Milliken & Company Charitable Foundation is ensuring students from all backgrounds and income levels have the chance to discover a world of natural wonder at Conestee Nature Preserve.

“Kids today are spending more time behind screens than playing outside. Environmental education programs, like the one here at Conestee Nature Preserve, help improve physical health, prosocial behavior, and increase respect for nature,” Whitmire said. “Students who attend our field trips spend 4 hours walking trails, interacting with the natural world, and making important connections between their science curriculum in the classroom and what is really happening in the environment. These experiences can be transformative for the students!”

A field trip to Conestee Nature Preserve is unlike any other. Programs are led by the Preserve’s environmental education staff, who have a combined 45 years of environmental education experience. They lead exploratory, place-based nature programming tailored to the lessons students are learning in the classroom.

Students not only learn about animal and plant life at Conestee Nature Preserve – they get to hear, touch and see it for themselves while peeking under decomposing logs or examining wildlife artifacts to understand animal adaptations.

To learn more about field trips offered by Conestee Nature Preserve and monthly sponsorships, visit our field trips page.

The Preserve is currently seeking additional monthly field trip sponsorships for the remainder of the 2024-25. If you or your company are interested in providing a month of outdoor educational experiences, please contact Josh Zalabak at


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