From nature sketching and nature walks to backyard bird feeding and planetarium viewings, the brand new Robinson Nature Center is offering a variety of programs for different interests and age groups this fall.
The center's grand opening is Saturday, Sept. 10 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is complimentary that day.
"Not only did we want it to be a fabulous building where children and people could come learn, but we also wanted it to become an environmental community center of sorts," County Executive Ken Ulman said. "And it really seems to be coming together that way..
"I've been there many times, giving people tours," he added, "and I'm really just incredibly pleased at how well it's being received. People are really blown away, really excited."
The county has spent five years working on the $17.6-million nature center.
Normal hours of operation for the center are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Daily admission is $5 for adults 18 and older and $3 for children ages 3 through 17. Children under age 3 will be let in for free. Annual passes also will be available.
Visitors will have the opportunity to explore two floors of exhibits, including natural history, cultural and regional exhibits, as well as the outdoor trails and nature.
"Our exhibits are very interactive and multi-sensory," Stacey Yankee, the center's director, said. "The trails are a complimentary experience because you go outside and explore it firsthand."
Outdoor exhibits, including an amphitheater, butterfly house and green house, will be added in the future, Yankee said.
In addition to the exhibits, the center will offer special programming, which will change each season.
One of the fall programs is nature sketching for youth ages 10 to 15.
"The lady who is teaching it is actually the artist who did all our murals here in the exhibitory," Yankee said. "It's a fabulous program for young children to be able to be taught by a talented artist."
The nature sketching class will be held Saturdays from Oct. 8 to Oct. 22. The registration fee is $65.
Some programs run for just one day and some are held weekly. Registration fees vary. For more information or to sign up for programs, visit the county's Recreation and Parks website.
Yankee, who has worked in nature centers throughout the country, said one of the unique aspects of the Robinson center is its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) components, which includes bioretention areas to collect storm water runoff, solar panels on the roof and a geothermal heating and cooling system. The 25,000-square-foot center is on track to become one of only three LEED Platinum certified buildings in the state.
"We are not only teaching people that connection and that appreciation of nature, but the building itself is a green building," Yankee said. "It's state-of-the-art technology, both in exhibitory as well as green technology."
If you go
When: Saturday, Sept. 10, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Where: 6692 Cedar Lane, Columbia, MD 21044
Timeline of Events: 9 a.m. – Grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. – self-guided tours, activities and nature walks
3 p.m. – close of opening day
Other details: Admission is free on opening day. Shuttle service will be available from the Hickory Ridge Village Center and Atholton High School to accommodate overflow parking.