Nature enthusiasts can once again visit the Mistletoe State Park Nature Center, which recently reopened after a winter hiatus.
The nature center is located just inside the park's main entrance and contains informational displays and preserved animals.
"Inside there are lots of displays, including taxidermy animals that we use to teach about animal adaptations -- fawn's coloring; beaver's teeth, ears, eyes, tail and hair; otter's sleek shape, etc.," said Marilyn Grau, senior corps project director. "There are snakes -- 'pickled' in jars of formaldehyde, taxidermy, models, and occasionally live in cages -- all used for educational purposes."
Grau said the nature center also has a display of taxidermy fish with informational boards that provide facts about the various species.
"When you press the button next to each explanation, a light goes on over the fish to identify it," she said. "There are other learning games and displays about trees, animal fur and snakes. A large viewing window looks over a series of bird feeders, and binoculars and bird identification books are on hand for viewing. Microscopes are available for kids and adults to study prepared slides or other items, such as leaves and snake skins."
The nature center is the brainchild of Brenda Bettross, a park employee who has written a number of grants to enhance the center.
"She is not officially a naturalist, but has a real interest and quite a bit of expertise on the subject," Grau said, adding that the center is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays through October. The center is open by appointment on weekdays.
"During the week, when school groups come to the center, Brenda hosts them and has put together several educational kits and lesson plans generally geared toward adaptations," Grau said.
Bettross calls the nature center a "hands-on learning center for adults and children to learn about plants and animals that make their home at Mistletoe State Park."
There are activities each Saturday that the center is open, with volunteers planning their own activities, including making animal tracks with rubber forms and plaster, making pinecone bird feeders, planting native wildflowers in pots to take home, dissecting owl pellets and making leaf prints.
"Nature centers aren't 'standard' for all state parks, although some do have nature centers," Grau said. "And although ours is small, Brenda has done an exceptional job with all the interactive displays. We frequently get compliments on it, and I have had guests say this is the best one they've ever visited."
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