Brown County State Park
by Jeff Tryon
Summer or winter, the State Park’s Nature Center provides an oasis of knowledge about the great outdoors.
Even on the most blustery day, visitors can come face to face with eagle, turkeys, fox, squirrel and chipmunk but these forest friends won’t scamper awaythey are permanently preserved and in glass display cases.
Along with the stuffed specimens is a lot of information in the form of colorful displays which explain erosion and forestation, the downside of pollution, what a scientist takes into the woods, animal tracks, what different types of tree leaves and wood look like, bird songs and nests and migration patterns, butterfliesit’s a little, local museum of natural history right in our own back yard.
But out of the dozens of large, colorful, carefully designed, information-packed exhibits, the one that invariably draws the most attention, according to Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) naturalist Jim Eagleman, is “Mother Nature’s Gallery”.
The Gallery is a small booth crammed with oddities, small natural wonders, and junk found on hikes in the park’s 16,000 wild acres. The display includes odd rocks, bees’ nests, beverage bottles, gourds, feathers, bittersweet, antlers, shells and bones, geodes, horseshoes andMr. Eagleman’s favoritea rusted muffler patched with an old Kentucky license plate.
In summer, the many nature-related displays at the center include live snakes in glass cases and live turtles in a natural-looking indoor pond setting, as well as honey bee colony between glass plates that visitors can sit and observe.
“It’s a good local resource too, for folks who live here and maybe have seen a snake and they come here to confirm what type of snake it was,” Mr. Eagleman said.
“We have no live animals through the winter months. We release all our reptiles and turtles in the fall, but there’s still some exhibits, some nature games to play and interesting things to look at,” he said.
However, the Nature Center’s bird watching room provides excellent views of live wild birds this time of year, Mr. Eagleman said.
“The biggest draw in the winter is our bird feeding station,” he said. “We have a heated fountain and the birds come in big numbers.
“Just prior to any winter storm we have a flurry of activity.
“It’s great viewing for folks sitting inside. The bird room window is one-way glass, so they can sit there and watch the birds up close. It’s a wonderful opportunity to study the birds.”
The Nature Center was built in the late 1960’s as a visitors center and then later taken over as an interpretive station. In addition to a museum of Brown County nature, it has become a hub for all kinds of nature appreciation programs and activities.
Just as the nature center provides an often much needed (airconditioned) refuge during summer outings to the state park, so it can be a good jumping off point, or resting station, for winter adventures in the Park.
For the hearty, winter-loving hiker, opportunities include 12 miles of established trails. Trail 8 begins right out the back door of the nature center, proceeding down a large, forested hill (with some great wooden stairways) to Strahl Lake.
Mr. Eagleman said the winter shows a different side of the state park we think we know so well.
“It’s a chance to enjoy a slower pace than what we have at the park in the fall,” he said. “There’s a good chance to see wild turkey and deer, and also just to enjoy the peace and solitude of the park in winter.
“People may not think at first they’ll enjoy it, but with the proper clothing and a little effort, they’ll really have a good time,” Mr. Eagleman said.
Among winter activities available at the state park, weather permitting, are cross-country skiing, sledding and ice fishing.‘When the conditions are there, there’s some good skiing for cross country skiers when they bring their own equipment,” he said. “We don’t rent equipment, but I see ski trails on some of the closed roads, so I know folks are enjoying that.”
“Sledding is permitted on the hill above the swimming pool, what we call the (archery) target range,” Mr. Eagleman said. “It’s a safety hill there where parents and little kids can come and sled safely.
Winter hours at the nature center are Wednesday through Friday 1:00 to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 4:30 p.m. The nature center is closed Monday and Tuesday during the winter.