What’s New at The Nature Center – March 2022

If you haven’t been to The Nature Center lately you’ve not seen all that’s happening there.

Our newest Nature Center exhibit, “Native Plants”, located at the top of the stairway, has been open since last year. It features photos of many of the plants that call Steele Creek Park home.

Upstairs the atrium ceiling now displays a star-filled night sky showcasing the beauty our Milky Way, thousands of stars, and many of the constellations that can be seen in our region.

The atrium night sky as seen from downstairs

Meanwhile, downstairs has been transformed into a subterranean wonderland with wall graphics demonstrating the geologic underpinning of the Park and showing many of the critters that live or spend much of their time underground. A palaeontologic timeline can also be found along one of the hallways leading to the classroom.

Our Nature Explorers’ Library is now finished and available to visitors on request. Thanks in large part to the Massengill-DeFriece Foundation, it boasts one of the most extensive regional natural history collections in our area. Though most of the volumes are reserved for on-site use only, a significant (and growing) number are being made available for lending.

City crews are putting the finishing touches on the Staff/Research Work Space and Collections Room. Once completed, it will house the Ruth Clark Herbarium as well as the Nature Center’s other extensive collections of natural history specimens.

Just outside the lower level of the building, our new Native Plants Garden is taking shape. Now two years into development, it is home to over 60 species of native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees – a perfect complement to the Native Plants Exhibit that overlooks it from indoors. Both it and the Monarch Watch certified Pollinator Garden located off the back porch, and maintained by Washington County Virginia Master Gardeners, will be bursting with new growth and spring color very soon now.

And if all that isn’t enough, three exciting new exhibits will be coming soon.

This summer an educational observation beehive will be installed in the atrium, upstairs just outside the Lakeview Gallery. This marvelous display will feature an actual working beehive for visitors to safely view from within The Nature Center. The observation hive has been made possible by a grant from The Bee Cause Project, with technical support and assistance from our “bee mentor”, Ben Cowan.

Example of observation beehive soon to be installed

Also on the drawing board to appear in the upstairs atrium is a “Park After Dark” exhibit. A tree will soon be created with lots of cavities and other hiding places where many of the Park’s nocturnal critters hang out during the day. Visitors will get to explore this interactive tree to learn all about these animals and the lives they lead both during the day and at night.

Design graphics for “Park After Dark” tree exhibit

The last permanent exhibit planned for the expanded Nature Center is our fantastic “Giant Ground Sloth”. An eight-foot-tall replica skeleton of this prehistoric animal that once roamed our area will stand aside the crawl-in cave downstairs. This impressive display is sure to be a “must see” for all of our curious naturalists and other Nature Center visitors. The addition of this exhibit will complete all the major exhibits planned for inside the Nature Center.

Design graphics for Giant Ground Sloth exhibit

These last two permanent exhibits have already been designed and are simply awaiting the funding to be created and installed. If you are interested in helping to make these displays a reality at The Nature Center, you can help by making a financial contribution Friends.

This is just a brief update of what our Friends organization is doing at Steele Creek Park. We currently have more ideas and future plans than funding to pay for them. We don’t take on any project without having the funding in hand, so we move along project by project enhancing the value of our Park for the citizens of and visitors to our area.

If you have suggestions for other projects in the Park, email us to let us know. We realize that we may always seem to be coming to you asking for support, but you have stepped up and supported us tremendously. Just look to see what we have accomplished – a Nature Center and Park that is the envy of the region and the State.


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