Many parks and conservation agencies host interpretive programs to educate visitors on natural history and science. At the core of many such interpretive programs is a Nature Center. The mission of a Nature Center is to house exhibits and activities that visitors can access for education and entertainment. During the month of July I took a trip to visit the Nature Center at Mount Blue State Park. The route to Mount Blue took me through quiet Maine villages and winding roads, past forests and farms. When I was nearing the park, something caught my eye and I took the chance to stop: there alongside the road was a very peculiar kind of monument.
A pair of legs signal ‘distress’ when they are pointing into the air and their owner’s head cannot be seen. But no one cried for help, and the legs made none of the motions of an imperiled sightseer. No, this was not some barrel enthusiast who had let their interests get the better of them: this was an ageing advertisement. Long ago in the town of Weld, Maine, some local residents had started their own business selling worms as bait for fish. “The Man in the Barrel” is a depiction of an eager fisherman who has fallen into a barrel full of bait.
I learned the story behind “The Man in the Barrel” when I reached the Mount Blue State Park Nature Center. After my curiosity was satisfied, I learned more about the Mount Blue Nature Center. I was given the tour by Dan Muller. Dan is a Maine Conservation Corps Community Leader and spent part of his time serving at the Mount Blue Nature Center.
The interior of the Nature Center features a fireplace, thick sloping rafters, and fixed ceiling-high picture windows on either end of the building. The furnishings are halfway between a children’s recreation room and a Natural History Museum. An assortment of children’s science books are shelved less than ten feet away from a display of animal skulls arranged from smallest to largest. On the other side of the building I found taxidermy mounts near a collection of stuffed animals.
In every corner you can expect to find an exhibit or an activity of one kind or another. I think any child would want to spend some time at the “WHAT’S THE POOP?” game. This clever little display is an arrangement of switches and lights next to examples of faux animal scat, animal names, and descriptions. To play, you first read the description of an animal at the bottom of the board and guess which animal it is describing. Press the button next to the description and a little bulb will light up next to the correct animal’s name and the cast of its scat.
There are displays on the history of Mount Blue State Park, including a story about the origin of the “Man in the Barrel.” Some of the other displays and activities include three dimensional maps, watershed models, and live animals in terrariums. The Nature Center’s snakes were among the most active terrarium animals I had ever seen. Most pet snakes I have encountered in the past are sluggish and shy: at Mount Blue, the snakes on display refused to stop moving.
In the back corner near the picture windows is the bird viewing area. Through the windows, visitors can see a neat little garden featuring a small fountain and various bird feeders. Around the windows are posters of birds and descriptions of their identifying features. This little corner is sure to be appreciated by any bird watcher who happens to visit.
A Nature Center is great feature to any conservation organization and Mount Blue State Park is lucky to have one. Consider checking it out if you happen to be in the area of Weld, Maine next summer.
This Blog Post is part of a series that will feature three Nature Centers from across the State of Maine. Next week we will feature the Sebago Lake State Park Nature Center in Casco, Maine