Hodgepodge Lodge begins new life

Former MPT children's show set moved to county conservancy and restored as nature exhibit

October 02, 2008|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

For more than 30 years, the Hodgepodge Lodge endured a battering from the elements.

The floor was missing, the stone chimney destroyed, and the roof bore a large hole.

But with the recent efforts of volunteers and donors, and months of hammering and painting, the cabin that was the iconic namesake of a popular public television show has been relocated and restored. The 8-by-10-foot structure was moved from its longtime home in Owings Mills to the Howard County Conservancy, where it will serve as an interactive nature exhibit for children.

"It's going to be interesting and inviting to kids," said Meg Schumacher, executive director of the conservancy. "And so many parents have really fond memories of [the show]."

The project suits the conservancy's goal of providing youngsters a chance to explore the outdoors, Schumacher said. "There's been an effort to get children to go outside and play in the natural world," she said. "The idea is that we want hands-on environmental activities."

The restoration was completed Friday, and the cabin is set to be dedicated to Jean Worthley, aka "Miss Jean," the friendly and familiar former host of the Maryland Public Television show Hodgepodge Lodge. The dedication is scheduled for Saturday as part of the conservancy's Fall Festival.

Hodgepodge Lodge was a popular children's show that ran from 1970 to 1977, according to MPT. The show was syndicated nationally and carried on education-oriented stations from Maine to the District of Columbia.

Miss Jean took children - and cameras - on field trips to explore nature, visiting places such as cliffs and swamps.

"Every day, we were learning about something new, and that was pretty impressive," said George Beneman, MPT's vice president of technology.

Beneman was in his 20s when he was part of the studio crew for the show.

"There are lots of adults now who grew up on Hodgepodge Lodge and hopefully are sharing that with their children," he said.

The conservancy is the county's only environmental education center, made up of 232 acres donated by Frances and Ruth Brown, sisters who wanted the land to be donated and used for educational purposes after they died, Schumacher said.

Even Worthley is surprised by the cabin's longevity.

"It was built to be a set in 1969, and it was only supposed to last for a few years," she said. "I think it's pretty amazing."

James and Dessie Moxley of Clarksville, the leading donors for the restoration, according to Schumacher, have longtime ties to Worthley, which is one reason they were motivated to support the project.

"Our oldest child used to watch [her] on television," Dessie Moxley said.

James Moxley has known Worthley for more than 60 years - she was one of his 4H leaders when he was a child, his wife said. And Worthley was the guide and teacher for a nature camp held by the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, a group for which Dessie Moxley has served as president.

The restored lodge is filled with nature activities for children, including skulls and antlers that youngsters can touch. To get to the lodge, visitors use a map that includes clues to two routes, one longer and one shorter.

Bert Rankin, MPT's director of development who started working at the station almost 20 years after watching the show as a child, said he was surprised to see that the lodge was still standing, untouched. With the coaxing of his supervisor, Rankin began seeking a new home for the cabin that would allow it to serve as an exhibit for children.

"I used to watch the show as a kid," Rankin said. "The Howard County Conservancy was so ready, willing and able to work together in fundraising and moving a structure."

In June, with the volunteer help of builder Ron Shaw, the deconstruction of the lodge began. Then, two businesses - Maryland's Best Sheds and Play n' Learn - moved the pieces to the conservancy, where Shaw rebuilt the lodge.

Since then, volunteers and MPT and conservancy staffers have repainted the lodge to replicate its original look from the 1970s, including red trim and stained cedar shingles.

Another business, fauxwoodbeams.com, whose owner watched the show as a youth, offered to custom build a replacement stone chimney, Rankin said.

"It's really interesting how all these people had a connection with Miss Jean," Schumacher said.

Many former fans of the show predict that the restoration will bring back a flood of memories and perhaps a renewed interest in the environment for the next generation.

"I think what Jean started 40 years ago is going to continue so that these memories are going to continue," Beneman said. "There will always be this fond remembrance of what's been started, something to continue for a very long time to come."

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