Young visitors at Bear Creek Nature Center now can feel a beaver’s soft pelt, climb inside a three-dimensional tree and be eye to eye with an iconic Colorado fish, thanks to a series of new exhibits.
The center, run by El Paso County, will celebrate its recently completed, $250,000 makeover from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday.
The crown jewels are 14 greenback cutthroat trout that now live in a 300-gallon Plexiglas aquarium at the center. The fish, members of the threatened species that is Colorado’s state fish, were delivered by Colorado Parks and Wildlife in November from the Leadville National Fish Hatchery.
The fish were once believed to be extinct, but researchers found in 2012 that a genetically pure population lived in Bear Creek, not far from the nature center along the banks.
The nearly 9,000-square-foot center has interactive exhibits and a network of trails in the northwest corner of Bear Creek Regional Park, near Lower Gold Camp Road. The original building, which opened in 1976 as Colorado’s first nature center, was destroyed in 2001 by an arson fire and replaced a year later, says a county news release.
At the celebration, families also can check out a trio of “habitat pods” with information and touchable artifacts for each of the three habitat types on the property, said Mary Jo Lewis, nature center supervisor. The riparian pod, for example, features a beaver pelt and tracks, along with a log that’s been nibbled by the animals.
Children can read and relax in the “cub’s corner,” or explore the inside of a tree-like structure, Lewis said.
“A big focus of the exhibits is to highlight and reinforce what they’re going to see outside at Bear Creek,” Lewis said. “I think that all of the new exhibits really do that and really help to bring our outdoor spaces to life.”
About $100,000 in donations helped to pay for the improvements. The rest of the bill was footed by a measure that voters approved in 2014, allowing the county to spend more than $2 million in excess revenue on parks and recreation projects.
Some of the nature center’s old exhibits remain. Visitors still can get up close and personal with thousands of honeybees through the glass of an observational beehive that’s long been a crowd favorite.
Saturday’s free event also will feature a scavenger hunt, selfie contest, habitat-themed puppet shows and educational presentations on the trout. Each attendee can get a free slice of pizza from Papa Murphy’s.