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Roaring Brook Nature Center: A Regional and Updated Resource

The Nature Center, which is affiliated with The Children's Museum in West Hartford, has hiking trails, programs, interactive exhibits, wildlife, flower gardens and more for the outdoor enthusiast.

Roaring Brook Nature Center may fall within the boundaries of Canton, but for many years it has been a regional resource.

Those who have only dropped off an injured animal, hiked around the pond with their children, or visited the exhibits 30 years ago may be surprised at the offerings and updates.

The center has five miles of trails set on more than 165 acres of adjoining woodlands, a showcase of important natural and historical features, butterfly and geology gardens, numerous wildlife and nature programs, camps, and indoor exhibits that place the visitor in the midst of the interactive human and natural habitats.

“I don’t know if people know how much we’ve changed over the years,” said Assistant Director Margery Winters.

In 1948, Canton resident Una Storrs Riddle founded the Canton Children’s Nature Museum. In 1963, the neighboring Werner Farm was given to the state, essentially giving the center a large outdoor classroom as well as providing an area for hiking, and for bird and nature enthusiasts.

In 1964, supporters built a larger building and nine years later the facility became associated with The Children’s Museum, formerly the Science Center of Connecticut, in West Hartford.

From 2006 to 2009, the center upgraded its exhibits with the help of several fundraisers and various donors.

Led by Ted Esselstyn, a team of artists created several new interactive exhibits, integrating terrariums, seating and technological aids. The idea was to put visitors in the midst of a habitat they may only normally see from the outside.

Included are a Farms to Forest to Lawns Exhibit and Beaver Wetland exhibits. An Ancient Forest and Native American Exhibit incorporated the center’s traditional Longhouse, a popular eastern Native American structure.

Of course, the exhibits serve as aids to teach about nature, not substitutes.

“The exhibits are sort of like the trailer to the outside and that exhibit is always changing,” Winters said.

With the help of the center, visitors can see seasonal changes as well as more lasting ones. A walk along the brook reveals the site of an old dish mill and another path includes a sign about the plight of Hemlocks in Connecticut.

In addition to its numerous programs and guided walks, the center has interpretive booklets that can help visitors learn about such features.

It certainly goes to the center’s mission, which has not changed. Jay Kaplan, director since 1975 ,said there are two main objectives.

The first is increasing people’s awareness of the natural world.

The second is how things are interrelated.

“There are intricate relationships between various parts of this world in which we live,” Kaplan said.

The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, for example, is decimating a tree population that provides streamside stabilization and habitat, Kaplan said.

That in turn can affect the sensitive brook trout, he said.

“That’s a small example of how things are interrelated,” he said. “We’ve tried to teach generations of students how to be aware.”

Students are popular visitors to the center. Schools from the area and even throughout the state sponsor field trips. Many local students and Scout groups also volunteer at the center.

The center also provides two full-time, one half-time as well some weekend and teaching jobs.

Kaplan’s seen many former students and volunteers come back with their own children. Other volunteers have gone on to become teachers, nature photographers, and veterinarians — even mountain climbers.

The center also has big plans for 2013, which it has dubbed the year of the raptor.

The center can sometimes take in injured animals — but always call before touching any animal and to see if the center can take it. Birds in the center that are too injured to live in the wild include:

  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red Tailed Hawk
  • 2 Barred Owls
  • Eastern Screech Owl
  • American Bald Eagle
  • Saw-Whet Owl

Next year, the center hopes to build a new area that will improve the overall conditions for the birds.

“It’s better for the visitors, better for the raptors and better for the volunteers. The effort will include donation opportunities as well as a major event in late March.

The center runs summer and vacation camps in addition to regular programs. and special events.  A concert series also supports the center. 

For more information, log on to http://www.roaringbrook.org/ or call 860-693-0263. 

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