Nature facility gets renovation, expansion

Carrie Murray center uses $500,000 city grant to accommodate programs

March 13, 2000|By Nora Koch | Nora Koch,SUN STAFF

Cupid and Owlex have had a hard time taking their afternoon naps since construction began outside their West Baltimore home two weeks ago.

Outside the birds' cages in the Carrie Murray Outdoor Education Campus in Leakin Park, a bulldozer is flattening the earth to make way for a new classroom.

Baltimore City is spending $500,000 to renovate and expand the 14-year-old nature center from 4,553 to 8,193 square feet and accommodate twice as many students who visit Owlex, Cupid and other creatures.

The center, home to hawks, eagles, a flying squirrel and other animals, is a learning place popular with Baltimore schoolchildren. It will remain open during the renovation -- to be completed in August -- but construction will force cancellation of summer day camp.

"Parents understand, because they know the renovation is something I longed for, for a long time," Corinn Parks, the center's director, said this week. The summer camp usually enrolls 40 students a week, for eight weeks.

When the project is complete, the nature center will have a third classroom, a new roof and a more modern exterior, plus new windows and doors. The construction will expand the original nature center, named in honor of Orioles first-base coach and former first baseman Eddie Murray's mother. His donation of $500,000 helped the center to be built in 1986.

"It's gratifying that the city is adding money to it," said Murray from the team's spring training in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Hopefully, it will mean there are more kids who can enjoy coming to the park."

The renovations -- aiming to fix a shabby exterior, leaky roof and broken boards -- are part of the city's recognition of the center's popularity, said Gennady Schwartz, chief of capital development for the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

"A lot of times, when you design a facility with a specific program in mind, things change, and you have to make adjustments to the program," Schwartz said. Now, he said, the job is to modify the facility to fit the growing program.

Typically, 35 students with chaperons visit the center each weekday. The center also offers evening and weekend classes. Most weekday groups are from city schools, but senior citizens, college students, preschoolers, Scouts and church groups also sign up for classes. A Yale University forestry class makes an annual trip from New Haven, Conn.

Students can take courses on conservation, Maryland birds, dinosaurs, insects and orienteering surrounded by Leakin Park's 1,216 acres of forest, which are carved by streams and hiking trails.

The center offers a wilderness survival class, where students learn to build a fire and shelter, find food and water, and signal for help in the wilderness.

Neither of the center's two small classrooms is big enough to hold a class of 40.

Tarantulas, spiders, geckos, worms and water bugs live in one of the two rooms, the center's pop- ular insect zoo. City police and a Department of Natural Resources park ranger have offices in the second room. Cupid, a green parrot whose vocabulary begins and ends with "hello," lives in a large cage in the nature center's dining room. He shares that room with Owlex, a great horned owl, and about 25 snakes, and other birds and reptiles. Environmental education has been booming in the past 10 years, Parks says, and the extra classroom is needed to accommodate the requests for classes.

"Environmental education is growing constantly. People are realizing there is a need for children to learn about the environment, because it is part of every day life," Parks said. "We've got to keep it clean, and they've got to learn."

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