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The Chico Creek Nature Center is more than a gateway to Bidwell Park. It’s a place where wild animals and their strange yet familiar homes can be experienced. It’s a place where children and their questions are encouraged. Brushing up close with the creepy-crawlies and feathered friends of our community builds respect and develops curiosity, and can be especially fun for children.
Many years ago I was one of those children. I remember a field trip to the nature center, which houses a non-releasable living animal museum, where my fellow classmates and I got a close-up look at hawks, owls, snakes and tarantulas. I remember hiking through the surrounding park and learning about the native plants and wildlife. Over the next few years, I’d return to the nature center for summer camp and birthday parties.
I recently returned to the Chico Creek Nature Center for a visit. It hadn’t changed much, but there was a new building beside it: an exhibit hall and nature lab. It looked empty.
The new building is expected to open March 27, according to the nature center’s director, Tom Haithcock. He said the facility will be used for activities that underscore the value of field trips to elementary school students, and as a meeting space for organizations that have similar missions to the nature center, such as the Audubon Society, the California Native Plant Society, and Friends of Bidwell Park.
Haithcock explained the building will be used for field trips and as an activity center for summer camp sessions, which are popular among 5- to 11-year-olds, while still keeping existing exhibits in the museum open to the public.
The nature center is a non-profit that works closely with the parks department on City of Chico land in Bidwell Park. The center’s mission is education. Haithcock said he thinks if people know more about the park, they will appreciate it more and take better care of it.
The exhibit hall and nature lab will increase community awareness of conditions in Bidwell Park. The nature lab will be furnished with microscopes, educational kits for children and a permanent exhibit that focuses on stewardship of the park. The exhibit will highlight geology, native plants and wildlife, creek ecology, and the history of the Maidu in Bidwell Park. As conditions in the park change, the exhibit will reflect those changes by providing information on topics such as erosion and invasive plants.
The Chico Creek Nature Center is raising money through its “Buy a Brick” program to help pay for the exhibit hall and nature lab. Community members can buy a brick – which can be engraved – that will line the pathway to the new building. Haithcock said there has been an overwhelming response to the program. The center has raised nearly $50,000. About $5,000 to $10,000 is still needed to pay for construction of the exhibits.
Bricks can be purchased online for $150, $250 or $350. The public can donate any amount by mailing a check, made out to the Chico Creek Nature Center, to 1968 E. Eighth St., Chico, CA, 95928. Donations can be earmarked for specific projects, such as lab equipment.
The nature center is a great place to begin exploring Bidwell Park for the young and old alike. The hands-on opportunities provided can inspire everything from an afternoon of the wonderfully weird to a life long joy of the outdoors.
Visiting the Chico Creek Nature Center:
The Chico Creek Nature Center is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Donations are welcome. For more information, visit bidwellpark.org.
Check out my photos of the Chico Creek Nature Center.
Journalist Lauren Brooks lives in Chico. She is the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record’s weekly entertainment guide, The Buzz. She is a CSU-Chico alumna who graduated with a B.A. in journalism in spring 2006. She can be reached at email@example.com.