New nature center opens at Darby Park
Of the 750,000 people who visited Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park last year, 300,000 took part in educational programs. With the opening of the park’s new nature center, the learning opportunities just got more unique and diverse.
“Until now, we’ve done it without a real base for educational programs at the park,” said John O’Meara, Metro Parks executive director.
The 14,000 square-foot nature center, built into a knoll overlooking one of the park’s two bison pastures, fills that void and then some. The steel, glass and concrete structure serves as home to laboratory-style classrooms, an auditorium, and exhibits that promote scientific inquiry. The showpiece is a 53-foot long freshwater aquarium that replicates Big Darby Creek and is stocked with mussels, fish, turtles and plants from the creek.
Naturalist Tim Taylor is excited about the programming possibilities. With the center’s resources, he can, for example, expand on one of the park’s most popular programs, stream quality monitoring in which participants wade into the creek to look for critters.
“We like to review the animals we find, but many of them, like riffle beetles and water pennies, are too small to show to a group out in the field,” Taylor said. “Now, we can bring some of those animals back to the nature center, put them under our video flex scope, and project a live video of them onto our 72-inch smartboard.”
The nature center also allows for more cold weather programming and can serve as an alternative off-site classroom for area teachers and students.
“We think of the nature center as a jumping-off point, a place to learn enough that you want to go out and explore the park to learn more,” Taylor said.
Wrapped around the back side of the center are observation decks equipped with stationary binoculars for viewing the bison and the surrounding landscape. Near the building’s base are a rock garden, patio, and paths that feed into the park’s trail system.
At 7,000 acres, Battelle Darby Park is the largest of the 18 Metro Parks and includes prairies, fields and forests. The Big and Little Darby Creeks, designated state and national scenic rivers, run through it and serve as habitat for 100 species of fish and 44 species of freshwater mussels.
“The nature center is part of our continuing effort to protect the resources of the park and its watershed,” O’Meara said. “Through education, we hope to get across the message that it is our shared responsibility to preserve those resources for future generations.”
The nature center’s operating hours will change by the season. In September, October and November, hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. In December, January and February, hours are noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. In March, April and May, hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. In June, July and August, hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
For more information about any of the Metro Parks, go to www.metroparks.net or call 891-0700.
Jack McDowell Way
While the official address for Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park’s new nature center is 1415 Darby Creek Drive, the service road that winds back to the center is named “Jack McDowell Way.”
The name honors the late Jack McDowell, a West Jefferson resident who worked for Metro Parks for 47 years including time as park manager at Battelle Darby. He spent the last 20 years in land management, working primarily on prairie restoration. McDowell died in July.
“Jack was a force of nature in his own right,” said John O’Meara, Metro Parks executive director. “He worked tirelessly through the years to educate people, and you can see some of his restored prairies right here at Battelle Darby.”