The Environmental Learning Center at Harrison Hills Park

I used to go up to Harrison Hills park when I was a wee lad. I even hosted one of my (not actually) famous end-of-year barbecues there. When I found myself back in the area with some time to kill, I stopped in to see if there was anything new. What I found was not really new, but surprisingly awesome.

We followed the signs for the Environmental Learning Center and found it to be closed … sort of. Posted hours are weekends from 1 until 3, and we were a little early. However, on our way back down the long ramp we heard the door open up and we were invited in by a group of staffers that were there early to clean. Everyone was incredibly friendly and we got the grand tour of their surprisingly well kept facility.

They have an impressive collection of insects and fossils. Most of the specimens and photos in their gallery were found locally. They also have a huge list of birds native to the park, as well as native trees that are keyed to a map.

There is a kids “touch table” with a bunch of really cool things, and couple of mildly disconcerting things.

In my day, this was the only deadmau5 there was … and we loved it because we had to!

In one corner is a really well-done scene set up with some taxidermy animals keyed to a book to tell you what you’re looking at.

The quality of the exhibits inside is exceptional, especially considering that the whole place is run by volunteers.

Outside, an “outdoor classroom” is host to a stage, climbing area, marimbas, a manual water pump, and a greenhouse for planting classes.

One of the women there talked with me about the design of these “burial mounds”. They are meant to be a respectful tribute to Native American tribes. They also serve a practical purpose; she told me that on a flat piece of grass, people just end up throwing a football. A hill that kids can roll down lets them engage with the landscape. Then once they are finished engaging with the burial mounds, you can tell them that they’re going to be haunted by an enraged tribal chief. Fun for everyone!

The next time you’re in the Freeport area, perhaps for the International Baseball Invitational, I highly recommend stopping on and finding the Environmental Learning Center at Harrison Hills Park.

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