NELSONVILLE – Hocking College hosted two grand-opening, ribbon-cutting ceremonies Tuesday afternoon, marking the opening of the new Hocking College Nature Center and the Hungry Hawk food trailer.

Between 50 and 75 people attended the dual ceremony. Many Hocking College students and staff were excited to be there — a COVID-safe gathering a year into the pandemic.

The nature center is located on the Hocking College campus, 3301 Hocking Parkway, Nelsonville, near Robbins Crossing on the south end of campus. It replaces the old Hocking College nature center, which was located somewhat off-campus in the woods.

The nature center features living animals — currently a skunk, a snapping turtle, fish, chickens and more — as well as informative displays about geological formations, including an interactive topographical map that is projected onto sand. The center will add more creatures this summer, including a living beehive.

The idea for the new nature center came from Hocking College students, Hocking College President Betty Young said in a speech.

“We really liked the idea of making (our nature center) more high-profile on our campus, where the public would see it and have the chance to interact here more than we had back in the back of the woods,” Young said. “And so with the 1850s village here known as Robins Crossing, this is a great addition.”

Young said the nature center will present a learning opportunity for Hocking Hills tourists, local residents and students alike. With a residential student body of about 500 people from all across the state, the center showcases natural life in southeast Ohio.

The center, as well as the food trailer, will create jobs internally for the college, Young said. Hocking College Dean of Natural Resources Daniel Kelley echoed that in his speech, saying that the center will allow students to work in and manage facilities in areas they may pursue as professionals.

The center has been years in the making, Dean Kelley said. Students, who have since graduated after pitching the idea, came up with the concept about 2 and a half years ago, Kelley explained. The center was initially anticipated to open in June 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused delay.

“In our Parks and Museum Education Program, we have a couple of classes in the curriculum that are dedicated to designing spaces for education and also designing exhibits and displays that go into those spaces,” Kelley said. “So (the students) actually took the footprint of this building and reimagined it.”

Michelle Doerzbacher, a Hocking College senior studying parks and museum education, worked a display at the grand opening which showcased taxidermied birds of Ohio.

Doerzbacher is excited for the experiential opportunities the nature center will provide to students, she said.

“I’m training to be essentially a naturalist,” Doerzbacher said. “Someday I want to work at a nature center very much like this. So this is a fantastic practice for me. I’m also getting hours for time practicum for this.”

Mary Mertz, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), concurred with Doerzbacher.

“All these kids who are learning these skills are our future workers,” Mertz told The Logan Daily News. “We have a lot of nature systems in our system, and it is a constant battle to keep them up-to-date, to keep them fresh, to have all the newest stuff on how to help kids – so I’m looking at this (as) a great practice place.”

“Hopefully if I get the chance to hire them all someday, they’re going to come with these skills, and they’re going to make our nature so much better,” Mertz added.

More information on the Hocking College Nature Center can be found at naturecenter.hocking.edu and on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HockingCollegeNatureCenter/.

The center will be open this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free; masks and social-distancing enforced.

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