Expanding the Nature Center While Expanding Minds
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Courtesy of Zion Nature Center
Last month’s story on the Parks Department included an announcement on the move of the Zion Nature Center from its current location on the grounds of Eagle Elementary to its future new home that will be built upon the former Rail Trail Gardens property, approximately 25 acres of land. Mayor Haak discussed that the town would begin the bond process for this project later this year or in early 2019, so the construction could begin as early as next year.
Zion Nature Center is limited to its hours of operation and available programming during the school year due to it being located on the grounds of the elementary school. At its new location, parking and hours will not be an issue.
Mindy Murdock, park naturalist and Nature Center manager, spoke about how the new location and larger facility will enable the Nature Center to grow its existing and immensely popular adult and children’s programs and expand its current offerings with new programs. She also pointed out that the growth of the Nature Center will allow for additional outreach program opportunities throughout all of Zionsville’s parks.
“The slogan that I throw out all the time is ‘Discover your background,’ and a lot of the programming and the exhibits that we’ve been doing have focused on that theme,” Murdock said. “We’ve added some new exhibits through grants, and we did our big fundraiser and got the box turtle log that was finished up for our 15th anniversary. And now we are fundraising to expand onto those and hopefully have those to put into the new facility. When the new facility is built and completed, we are working on having some new exhibits to go in it as well.”
With the current facility, Murdock and her staff have been functioning with very limited space and with having only weekend hours to offer their programs to 20-25 people, per program. While the design process for the new Nature Center is in the early phases of development, Murdock is wasting no time on planning for the possibilities and likely advancements that will come as a result of a new and larger facility as well as a growing Parks and Recreation Department in Zionsville.
“We’re still in the development phase of the campus plan that will include the Nature Center,” Murdock said. “Most likely, at a minimum, we will double in size. The hope is that instead of having small rooms like we have in our current facility, we will have a large exhibit space that will allow us to move and change out exhibits. We are also hoping to double our program space, so we can start offering programming for more than 20-25 people; more like 50-60 people.”
With more programs comes the need for more hands on deck. Murdock spoke about the inevitable need to add staff to the Nature Center as well as the Parks and Recreation Department.
“Currently, I am the only educational component to the Parks Department,” she said. “We’re still very small but are slowly starting to grow. Regarding my staff, we have part-time staff that works occasional weekends and seasonal staff that come in for the summer to help with camps. The future goal for the Parks Board and the Department is that as the parks continue to grow, the recreation and education side of the Parks Department will grow as well. That would probably lead to a recreational person that comes on to help do recreation programming and probably an assistant naturalist to come on and help with the increase of programs, but there is no set timeline on how or when those would happen. But I know these are goals that come with the opening of the new Nature Center.”
For more information on the programs at Zion Nature Center, visit zionsville-in.gov/270/Zion-Nature-Center.