Frank J. Marsden stands along Deer Creek, fiddling with a tree limb that had its bark chewed off by the beavers inhabiting scenic north Harford.
Walking along a freshly cut trail, Marsden picks up an empty pod, about the size of a golf ball, explaining how it was used by a wasp to lay its eggs.
Atop a hill overlooking the creek's confluence with Big Branch, the 44-year-old Pylesville resident holds a chunk of schist that formsthe bedrock in much of the county.
These are some of nature's wonders Marsden hopes to show county residents this summer when the first phase of the Eden Mill Nature Center opens at the 57-acre Deer Creek site.
"It's pretty much a pristine wilderness area," Marsden says. "There's a whole world out there for people to appreciate."
Marsden chairs a committee developing the nature center, which will feature fishing areas, hiking and canoeing trails, and wildlife and aquatic exhibits.
A grist mill, built at the site in the early 1800s and later converted into a hydroelectric plant, will be renovated into offices and meeting rooms for community and education programs.
Tours highlighting the history of the Deer Creek area also are being planned. The Eden Mill site, for example, was once used as a camp site for a tribe of Mingo Indians.
Many of the center's facilities -- even some of the nature trails -- are being designed to be accessible to senior citizens and handicapped people, Marsden says.
When complete, the Eden Mill Nature Center will be similar to the Harford GlenEnvironmental Education Center in Abingdon and the Oregon Ridge Parkin Baltimore County.
The Deer Creek site is presently called EdenMill Park, a county-owned facility bought in the mid-1960s but largely undeveloped except for a few picnic tables, horseshoe pits and volleyball courts.
Marsden and his eight fellow committee members hope to develop the nature center with private donations, grants and no county tax dollars.
Once developed, the nature center would be operated by volunteers organized by a non-profit recreation council similar to the ones that now oversee the county's parks and recreation programs, Marsden says.
The nature center will be a welcome additionto the county, says Stanley Kozenewski, director of Harford's parks and recreation department, and will help meet a need in the county that facilities like Harford Glen can't meet.
Harford Glen, owned bythe county school system, provides environmental education and recreation programs for about 12,000 students a year.
Marsden, a volunteer at Harford Glen, says Eden Mill will be able to pick up where Harford Glen leaves off. Many students and county residents want to continue with the activities they learn at Harford Glen but can't find a nearby facility at which to do so, he says.
"We just want to be a good weekend educational center," says Marsden.
He and the committee began planning the nature center about eight months ago. They got the idea while seeking grants and negotiating with the county to develop a canoe program for Deer Creek.
Marsden has made the center's development his full-time job since his family sold its Chevrolet dealership in Towson last year. "I want to give something back," he says. "And I'm being selfish -- I'm having fun."
On April 1, Marsden will embark on a solo, two-week canoe trip from Havre de Grace to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to bring attention to the plans for Eden Mill.
Upon his return, Marsden's canoe and much of his gear will be raffled off to raise money for developing Eden Mill.
An avid canoeist, Marsden is planning to recount his adventures to civic and school groups to spark interest in the activity, which will be one of the main features at Eden Mill.
Most importantly, according to Marsden, the center will provide a chance for people to learn how to appreciate nature.
"Most folks just clomp through the woods and don't know what's around them," he says. "I could spend hours at some spots."