Monday, February 17, 2014

Love Creek

We stopped at Love Creek County Park in Berrien Center, Michigan, this last week. I had seen clips on Outdoor Elements filmed there and realized it is used as a nature center. As I thought we visited all the nature centers that we knew of within an hour radius, I realized this was one we didn't visit yet.

There is an entry fee to the park that is paid at the front desk. It is $3/$4 a car, depending on whether you are a resident of the county. The building itself it beautiful! There are windows all along the other side of the building, making for a beautiful wildlife viewing window. There is one large room that acts as a warming room with a fire on one side and another room with nature center items on the other. There is a ski rental area, kitchen/concessions area, and then the staff area in the center.

The Nature Center section had a few hands on stations with a couple of furs, tree cookies, and animals to check out. 


Displays on the walls introduced us to weasels and the barred owl, with interpretive information about both. 


There were a couple of displays about birds, such as common feeder birds and woodpeckers. While we were driving that day, we were listening to Birding by Ear: Eastern/Central (Peterson Field Guides) , which included the section on woodpeckers. It was neat to follow up with pictures and information about woodpeckers.


The children enjoyed looking at the live animals. There were different types of turtles, snakes, and amphibians. 

For the kids, it was nice to study these animals up close and observe their behaviors.

I really liked this microscope set up. It was easy for the children to use, provided powerful magnification, and used plastic covered specimens rather than glass that I have seen a few other places. 


We saw a bumble bee tongue, fly leg, fungi spore, aphid, and many more! While looking at a black widow leg, one of the staff members grabbed a black widow spider out of the freezer and another two preserved in alcohol for the children to look at up close. This type of "value added" personal attention makes a huge difference in my book. They saw an interest we had and then shared additional information about what we were studying. It did make me wonder what other goodies to explore they had back in the staff area! 


It sounds like the real focus of Love Creek in the winter is cross country skiing. There are additional fees to use the ski trails and equipment, yet it seemed like a popular activity. Looking at the terrain behind the center, I was impressed by the variety of land. There were ravines, small hills, etc. that are often not seen in the flat terrain more characteristic of northern Indiana. A little to the north makes a huge difference!


We usually enjoyed the wildlife viewing windows when we go to various places. I asked the kids to identify 5 different birds while we were there. This gave them practice with their identification skills, a purpose to be there, and a goal for their observations. We saw cardinals, chickadees, American Tree sparrow, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, juncos, and more. 


There was also a display on insects in the cold weather. It looks like this is probably changed out for different seasons, making more reasons to come back in the future. While the nature center aspect was small, it gives a good reason to stop in and explore while using the 150 acres. The fee is modest and charged per car load, making it affordable when I have our four kids plus 2 extra cousins. Their website mentions six miles of hiking trails, a Beech-Maple Forest, and a variety of habitats. They have regular naturalist led programs in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. I look forward to checking some of these out!