Reaction from the public has been overwhelmingly positive.

"It's awesome. It's long overdue. Our community needed something like this," said Srinivas Rao, a veterinarian who lives in Columbia and came with his son, daughter and wife. "You can just see the excitement on the kids' faces."

Rao said he liked the attention to detail and amount of useful information, such as a chart that showed which Maryland snakes are poisonous. "This is taxpayers' dollars very well spent, especially in this environment." he said.

Sue Probst, a Village of Longfellow resident, called it "very well thought out. I think they did an excellent job."

Marsha McLaughlin, director of the county's department of planning and zoning, said she likes how the "Chesapeake Watershed" exhibit shows that Howard County is part of an ecosystem that affects the bay. "It's good to understand we're all tied together," she said.

A nature center was largely the dream of Anne Robinson, a diminutive but feisty woman who died in 2005, 18 years after her husband, a longtime Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. executive. In 2003, she created the nonprofit James and Anne Robinson Foundation to hold the land and help plan the nature center and its programs.

According to accountant Jeffrey Ring, chairman of the foundation's board, Anne Robinson left instructions that the land be sold to Howard County and used for a nature center, not housing or commercial development.

Ring told the opening day crowd that Anne Robinson received numerous offers for her land from developers, the last for more than $5 million, but turned them all down. "I am not concerned about the economic value of my property, nor am I concerned about leaving it to any potential heirs," a 2002 Letter of Instruction states, "I want the property to serve as a source of inspiration, education and beauty for the general public."

Ring said the land was sold by the Robinson Foundation to the county for $2 million, with $1 million donated back to the county as seed money to help build the nature center. The foundation used the other $1 million to support the project and its programs. Howard County raised the rest from county, state and federal funds and private donations

Mark Raab, superintendent of the parks department's Natural Resources Division, said one of the most fortuitous aspects of the transaction is that the Robinson property adjoined the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, the 1030-acre tract that Rouse had agreed to protect, and can serve as a gateway to it.

Raab said ideas for the exhibits came largely from the county's Recreation and Parks employees, in consultation with members of the Robinson Foundation and others, and were then conveyed to the designers.

Alan Reed of GWWO said the building's 'green' features include solar panels, sustainably harvested wood beams, and a geothermal heating and cooling system. Wood siding from a barn on the Robinsons' property was salvaged and used in the interior, he said.

The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults; $3 for children 3 to 17, and free for children under 3. For more information call 410-313-0400 or visit http://www.howardcountymd.gov/rap.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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