In the Spotlight - The Discovery Center

Last Updated on Jun 3, 2015 at 9:39am | Tourism & Recreation

"In The Spotlight!" is a regular feature of The Lake-Front magazine and is being reprinted here in its entirety with permission. This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue.
 
 
Young and old will find new adventures at Deep Creek Lake State Park's Discovery Center. Now in its 15th year of operation, the Discovery Center has delighted thousands of visitors with its interactive displays, hands-on exhibits, and live animals. The 6,000-square foot facility, located on the shores of Deep Creek Lake, features classrooms, a conference area, and creative displays that showcase the natural resources of Western Maryland.
 
The Discovery Center is a sensory delight and an amazing experience for children and adults. Inside the center you'll learn about the species indigenous to our area's forest and streams and even get to see a few close-up. Department of Natural Resource (DNR) Ranger Caroline Blizzard, the Director of The Discovery Center, is proud of how far the center has come since its opening. “The Discovery Center was a very static place. People would come, stay for about 15 minutes and see most of the exhibits. Now because everything is interactive and hands-on, our visitors are staying longer – and coming back more often,” she explains.
 
The Discovery Center features a variety of programs every week year round, including Scavenger Hunts, Scales and Tales, and animal encounters, as well as hikes and a Saturday night campfire in the summer.
 
Love critters? Visitors can enjoy three turtles that have been rescued from local waters and watch them in their natural habitat. Braver souls can even handle certain creatures, including snakes (with the help of a Park employee or volunteer, of course!)
 
Downstairs is the Science Room. Funded solely through donations, this is a hands-on space with microscopes to see natural organisms up close, amd fun games and puzzles to help teach about our friends in nature and televisions that are hooked up to cameras in The Aviary so you can watch the eagles up close. There is a new underwater fish cam which shows live scenes from beneath Deep Creek Lake’s surface, so you can literally see beneath the water.
 
The Aviary, located just a few steps away, is a not-to-be-missed adventure. Featuring non-releasable birds of prey who were rescued and brought to the park, current residents include a Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, two Red-Tailed Hawks, and three different owls. They are fed daily between 2 and 4 PM and the public is welcome to watch. All of these exhibits encourage appreciation for our natural resources and an understanding of our shared habitats.
 
After you’ve enjoyed the displays, visited the birds, and taken a walk along the lakeshore, be sure to stop by The Nature Shop, located just inside the main entrance. Says Caroline, “Products sold here help support The Discovery Center, and the toys, books, and apparel you’ll find here are completely tied into the mission and theme of the center.”
 
Special events are also held throughout the year. In the spring the center hosts a Natural Egg Dyeing, a Ramp Cook-off contest, and Birdfest. The Fall Festival at Friend’s Store on Sang Run Road is an annual event celebrating autumn, but the most popular is Art in the Park, scheduled this year for July 11 and 12 along the shores of Deep Creek Lake. It features over 30 local artists and various food vendors.

Special programs celebrating the 90th anniversary of Deep Creek Lake will be held the weekend of June 11 to 14, including a canoe tour of the lake as well as a display of historical photographs showing the lake as it was being built in the 1920’s.
 
The Discovery Center also plays host to local school groups every spring and fall with elementary school students from a five-county area enjoying the facility. Park naturalists often go off-site as well, visiting local schools and organizations to help students learn more about their environment and how to appreciate our natural habitat and protect it.
 
The naturalists at the center have carried this advocacy a step further by partnering with other local groups in some of their programs. For example, Caroline works closely with students at Crellin Elementary on her Monarch Butterfly program. Caroline has been studying the migratory patterns of Monarchs for years. She explains that every monarch butterfly east of the Rocky Mountains will migrate to one small area in Mexico.
 
Caroline initiated a program whereby volunteers and local school children tagged butterflies locally then would lead groups to Mexico each February to check their progress and see how many of their tagged butterflies they could spot. Several local park volunteers and other interested parties traveled with her until two years ago, when the situation in Mexico became too dangerous for travel.
 
Sadly, because of climate change and other factors, the butterfly population has declined precipitously. “I have been tagging butterflies for 15 years. For years, we would tag about 1,000 butterflies per year. Two years ago we could only find fourteen. Last year it was 100,” she says.
 
Caroline explains that one of the main factors in this decline is a general lack of milkweed throughout the United States along their migratory path. So she has paired with local organizations to help. The Mt. Laurel Club is working with the state and county roads departments and putting up “No Mowing” signs on roadsides where milkweed resides. The kids at Crellin have a greenhouse where they are growing milkweed plants which are sold at the Discovery Center so their purchasers can spread them wherever they may live. Half the money raised from the project goes to the tagging program and the other half goes back to Crellin Elementary. Funded in part by the Mt. Laurel Garden Club, this project helps bring awareness to the issue and helps provide a pollinator area for these endangered butterflies.

Although staffed by the DNR, many of the programs are possible because of their very active volunteer program, Friends of Deep Creek Lake State Park. “This Center is supported by volunteers,” says Caroline. “We couldn’t do one quarter of what we do without them.”
 
Volunteers take on a variety of tasks. “We have people that just help with certain events and ones that are here several times a week, and we appreciate each one of them,” says Caroline. She works hard to pair her volunteers with activities they love and what they may have experience in. “We’ve even had area teachers work at the center during their summer break to help them develop programs appropriate for our visitors and also help them learn more about incorporating what we offer here at the center into their lesson plans,” explains Caroline. One volunteer even makes birdhouses for the center which are sold to their patrons with proceeds going directly to The Discovery Center.
 
They’re always looking for new volunteers because the more help they have, the more they can offer to their visitors. No time to spare? Consider a donation. Patrons can even sponsor an animal or bird and help with their care and feeding.
 
The Discovery Center is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM Memorial Day through Labor Day and Friday through Sunday weekends year round.
 
For more information about their programs and weekly schedule, visit them at www.discoverycenterdcl.com. You can also Like them on Facebook or follow them on Instagram and Twitter.

For information on volunteering, visit the main DNR site at www.dnr.maryland.gov and click the volunteer button, or call Caroline directly at (301) 387-7067.
 
Discover the natural side of Deep Creek Lake this summer. Come by car, boat or bike and see what’s new!