WESTMINSTER — If initial enthusiasm is any indication of success, Carroll County's new Bear Branch Nature Center is guaranteed to exceed even its planner's fondest hopes.
An "Informational and Brainstorming Meeting" at Hashawha Environmental Appreciation Center last Wednesday drew morethan 60 participants with a wide range of special interests that they hope to see included as part of the new facility.
Among those represented were environmental groups, garden clubs, bird clubs, soil conservationists, astronomy clubs and children's clubs.
The meeting was conducted by Melinda Byrd, administrative director of Piney Run Nature Center, who also will serve as director of Bear Branch when it opens later this year at Hashawha. She reported that the building now is partially complete and expressed the hope that by April 1, 4,000 square feet of area will be completed.
She displayed blueprints for the overall plans, which include a nature library, offices, a gift shop, an observation/meeting room, an exhibit room, a discovery room for children, an auditorium and a planetarium.
Naturalists Elaine Sweitzer and Deanna Hofman, currently on the staff at Piney Run, also will serve Bear Branch, along with a planned third naturalist. In addition, the nature centers now have the service of one intern and another is scheduled to be added.
"By having the staff serve both centers, this will permit us to duplicate programs at the two locations," Byrd said. "People will be able to participate in a particular program at whichever center is most convenient for them."
Byrd stressed, however, that the current hiring freeze due tobudget constraints will probably affect staffing of Bear Branch. Forthat reason, she is not able to pinpoint a date when the center willopen. That also makes it essential for a large pool of volunteers tobe available to assist with programs.
The focus of Wednesday evening's meeting was to develop ideas for the new center and enlist the support of individuals and organizations for setting up exhibits. Byrd stressed all exhibits should include sensory stimulation, so even those who cannot read would still come away informed. She also emphasized that all exhibits should be structured with awareness to physicalhandicaps.
A wide range of suggestions for potential exhibit projects flowed from the session, including value of a wetland, soil conservation, composting, recycling and smart shopping, injured or orphaned wildlife, children's room exhibits, bird observation room, handicapped accessible trail, nature gift shop, photo blind by pond, demonstration vegetable garden, butterfly garden, hummingbird garden and a native woodland wild-flower garden.
As each exhibit idea was discussed, sign-up sheets were handed out to those who indicated that as aninterest. Following a break for refreshments, groups formed to brainstorm specifics in each area.
"I was very pleased with the response," Byrd said. "When the forms were returned, I was amazed and gratified to note that many of those present had signed up for not just onebut several projects. As a follow-up to this broad-ranging brainstorming session, I will now be meeting with each of the groups to work on specifics."
She said an effort was made to contact as many diverse groups as possible in advance of the meeting, but other groups interested in becoming involved with the nature center are encouraged toparticipate.
In addition to individuals and groups to work on exhibits, the new nature center needs volunteers with a wide range of skills, including bookkeeping, working in the gift shop, helping with the newsletter, leading nature hikes and a variety of other services.
Training for volunteers is offered each spring; scheduling is arranged to allow flexibility.
"Volunteering a few hours of your timeis a good, painless way to get acquainted with the nature centers," said Elaine Sweitzer, volunteer coordinator.
Volunteer interest survey applications are available for anyone who would like to offer their services.