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Facing toward the entrance (out of view at right), a life-like black bear acts as unofficial greeter for the Bear Creek Nature Center. The bear, a holdover display - along with the nearby fox and the smaller bear on the tree - recently received taxidermy enhancements. In the background at right can be seen some of the new exhibits. A "celebration" of these upgrades is scheduled at the center Jan. 5.
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Public invited to Bear Creek Nature Center Jan. 5 to 'celebrate' new exhibits

Dec. 20, 2018
       Live greenback cutthroat trout swimming in a 300-gallon tank are prominent among several new and updated exhibits inside the Bear Creek Nature Center.
       Center Supervisor Mary Jo Lewis invites the public to a “celebration” of the displays - most of them interactive and reflective of the nature in this area -
As a featured new exhibit in the Bear Creek Nature Center, greenback cutthroat trout swim in a 300-gallon tank, their presence augmented by a mural on the wall behind.
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Saturday, Jan. 5 from noon to 3 p.m.
       Located in El Paso County's Bear Creek Regional Park, the nature center is at 245 Bear Creek Road. Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, the county-owned facility has free admission, and the trails around it are open all the time. The nature center only charges fees for its various programs, which are geared for different ages and coordinated by center staffers.
       The celebration event (also free) will include refreshments, live music, a presentation on the trout (at 12:30 and 2 p.m.), a puppet show on Bear Creek habitats (12:50 and 2 p.m.) and contests for prizes.
       According to a press release, the exhibit updates were funded by $150,000 of tax funds, approved by county voters in 2014, and $100,000 of donations from individuals and organizations. The county contracted with Condit Exhibits
A "reader rail," one of the new exhibits in the Bear Creek Nature Center, allows a visitor to stand at the window and look for flora or fauna it describes. Six possibilities are listed on the rail.
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in Denver for the design and installation.
       Condit in turn collaborated with the nature center, Lewis said in an interview, to develop exhibits that would focus on flora and fauna specific to the foothills nearby.
       The old exhibits mostly date back to 2002, when the center, which originally opened in 1976, was rebuilt after an arson fire destroyed the previous building in 2001.
       In the renovation, a few of the older, popular exhibits remain, including “The Queen and Her Court” - an active, viewable honeybee colony with a tube providing the insects access to and from the outdoors.
       People can also still walk on the short bridge over a simulated stream (now with an improved water pump), while a full-size black bear (benefiting from taxidermic enhancement and a repositioning to face the entry door) continues to reign over the interior.
       A few other long-time, life-size stand-bys remain as well - a smaller bear, a fox, a cougar, a golden eagle and a bald eagle.
The new exhibit "pods" illustrate the three main habitat types found in the foothills around the Bear Creek Nature Center. This photo shows two of the pods, Shrubland (left) and Riparian. The third is Meadow. In the background can be seen, between the pods, the new Cub's Corner for kids and (at far right) the center's entrance. In late December, when this photo was taken, a few of the new exhibits were still awaiting their "touch table" elements, according to Mary Jo Lewis, the center supervisor.
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       The new fish tank includes the curious history of greenback cutthroat trout in this area. They were introduced to a small segment of Bear Creek (well upstream from the center) in the late 1800s, only to have that segment become the species' last remaining habitat.
       In recognition of that fact, the U.S. Forest Service in 2014 undertook a somewhat controversial protection plan to close and re-route some trails near the habitat and to modify its streambed.
       At the same time, greenback cutthroats are being reintroduced into Colorado's Platte River drainage, which is believed to have been their original home, Lewis elaborated.
       Obtaining live greenback cutthroats for public display took some effort. After a federal permit was obtained - it helped that the exhibit has an educational purpose
Three new stand-alone exhibits in the Bear Creek Nature Center are seen, with the south window in the background. The exhibits are about (near to far) bears, bird songs and being "fire wise."
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- the nature center worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to transport more than a dozen of the specimens from a hatchery in Leadville.
       “This offers visitors and program participants a rare and special opportunity to get an up-close look at these threatened fish and learn more about their history,” Lewis writes.
       Behind the new fish tank, an original mural on roughly 100 square feet of wall depicts a stream scene intended to make the cutthroats in the tank look like part of it. The artist, Mickey Schilling of Fort Collins, also painted the wall around the new “Cub's Corner” in the southwest part of the exhibit area, Lewis noted.
       Geared for the center's kids' programs, the “corner” is highlighted by a “three-dimensional tree [built into the wall] that invites visitors to crawl inside,” Lewis writes. “A selection of children's books, puppets and an accompanying mural make this exhibit an imaginative and engaging space for young visitors.”
How did the center use to look? Some of the interior can be seen in this file photo from the 2010 Bear Creek by Candlelight event. Still in place now are (near right) "The Queen and Her Court" honeybee colony, (rear right) the "Living with Wildlife" display and (rear left) the tree that the small bear can be found on (see the photo at the top of this page). The three new habitat exhibits have been installed in the middle, open area of this photo where several people are sitting.
Westside Pioneer file photo
Here are other new features within the center's 8,900-square-foot interior:
       - The “pods.” These are stand-alone, interactive stations that represent “the three main habitat types found in the foothills of Bear Creek - meadow, riparian, and shrubland - with engaging images and information as well as touch- tables inviting tactile exploration for all ages,” Lewis writes. One of them, for example, has buttons that plays the calls of six types of local birds.
       Another station tells about acorn weevils, which are key to the Shrubland exhibit titled “The Mystery of the Acorn Holes.” “When people go out on the trail and see acorns with holes, they will make that connection,” Lewis said.
       - The reader rails. Designed as narrow rectangles, one is below the east window, the other south. They, like the pods, relate to nature nearby. Each rail asks, “What Do You See?” and provides six possibilities. One of these, out the east window, is “Honeybees” (because the bees' tube to the outside is close by). And the visitor can slide that option on the rail to learn more about them.
       Other stand-alone exhibits. These consist of a station that discusses area fire concerns (which became particularly significant after the Waldo Canyon Fire of 2012, Lewis said), another about bird predators and prey, and it figures that a third station would be about bears. For example, did you know that, as the exhibit states, in autumn a bear “may search for food for 20 hours a day”?
       Overall, a major intent with the exhibits, Lewis emphasized, is to encourage “stewardship” of the natural environment.

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(Outdoors: City/County Parks)

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