Visitors will learn even more about nature through new exhibits and activities at the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve and Stevens Nature Center, thanks to nearly $20,000 in donations.
The Friends of the Hemlock Bluffs, a local group that supports the town-run park in Cary, donated $9,200 to update an exhibit at the Stevens Nature Center.
Meanwhile, outdoor apparel company REI donated $10,000 this summer for a new trail.
The new indoor exhibit has vibrant lighting, sleek information panels and displays full of of sticks, rocks and fake creatures such as a fox, squirrel and owl.
“It’s very nice,” Shane Smith, who was visiting the center for the first time on Tuesday, said of the exhibit. Smith, of Savannah, Ga., was visiting family in the area and toured the display with his father and 2-year-old daughter.
The display is a major upgrade from what had been in its place – an outdated exhibit that was installed in the 1990s, said Nature Center Supervisor Laura White.
“The photos were faded and peeling off the wall,” White said.
The town of Cary pitched in about $2,500 for the exhibit, White said. But as with many improvements at the 140-acre park and nature center, it wouldn’t have been possible without donations.
The preserve and nature center regularly hosts classes for children and adults. The area is also open to visitors who want to walk around on their own, taking in a piece of wilderness in the middle of suburban Cary.
Christina Hester, president of the Friends of the Hemlock Bluffs, said the group is happy to support the park.
“Laura comes to us and tells us her needs, and we see what we can fund,” Hester said.
With the indoor project finished, work is now moving outside for additions to the children’s trail.
That work is funded by the REI donation. The company, which has a store in Cary, has donated $55,000 to the nature center over the past six years, White said.
White plans to use the money to add structures like oversized toads, logs and turtle shells, so it will be impossible to play without learning.
“We have ideas of different activity areas where we can tie in play and learning,” White said. “If it’s a log, we talk about who uses the log in nature. If it’s a turtle shell, we talk about who uses a turtle shell in nature.”
On one of the longer trails, a small group of adults recently combined entertainment and education during a a fungus-focused tour of the woods.
“It’s fun to walk around the woods with someone who knows what he’s talking about,” said Bob Peterson of Cary, who has attended most of the adult classes at the nature preserve for the last three years.
Marcia Binkerd of Raleigh also said the classes are fun and enlightening.
During a recent class, tour guide Mark Johns talked about plants and fungi with names like resurrection fern, dead man’s finger, earth tongue and stinkhorn.
“I’ve worked here in various jobs since 1991, which is when we started doing programs,” Johns said. “We had three or four a month; now we have 50 or 60.”
Demand for classes keeps growing. Attendance at this year’s summer camp was the highest the nature center has seen, Johns said.