Hueston Woods builds new nature center

Construction of the new nature center began in October of 2021 and continued during the snow in February.

Photo by Caroline Haubenstricker

Construction of the new nature center began in October of 2021 and continued during the snow in February.

By Caroline Haubenstricker

Hueston Woods State Park is building a new $2 million nature center expected to be completed by May 2022. Once the new center is built, the former building will be closed. 

“We are getting a new nature center because our old one is from the 50s and it is just not up to the standards that we need our buildings to be,” said Kathryn Connor, Hueston Woods park manager. “It will be nice to have a new facility for visitors.”

The nature center is located near the park office. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. year-round. Naturalists offer year-round programming on a variety of topics.

An artist’s rendering of the outside of the new nature center. Photo provided by Kathryn Connor

The nature center has interactive displays on the park’s history, geology and Ohio’s native plants and animals. The center is also home to a variety of animals including fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. All the animals at the nature center are native Ohio species, kept because they are unable to survive on their own in the wild.

The new nature center is going to have new enclosures for the animals including snakes, turtles and fish, a bird viewing area more bird and user friendly, and interactive displays. 

Tully Milders, Hamilton resident and worker at Sorriso, Left Field Tavern and Corner Bar, loves Hueston Woods, especially the nature center. He has visited Hueston Woods since he was a child, with his children, and now with his grandchildren. His father was a farmer and taught him all that he knows about nature. 

During the spring, summer and fall, Milders visits Hueston Woods five times a week. He finds himself visiting anywhere from a couple of hours to the whole day. He goes to the marina to fish and walks through trails to hunt for mushrooms and pawpaw, the state fruit of Ohio. 

Milders said he has visited the nature center at least once a month for over sixty-five years. His children and grandchildren especially enjoy climbing in and out of the Eagle’s nest. 

“I love the idea of a new center,” Milders said. “Because all my life, I’ve enjoyed going in there and seeing the animals. It is part of my life, my kids, and grandkids.”

The nature center is a nice facility for people to explore and learn about nature, he said.

“The more hands on, the better. The more you capture the imagination of the kids, the better,” Milders said. “For the kids to get hands-on experience and be able to look and see nature is important.” 

In the fall of 2020 Mary Mertz, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), came to Hueston Woods during a routine visit, staying at the Lodge and seeing the nature center. 

“She is a very involved director, and she likes to go out to all of our parks and make sure everything is not only good for our visitors but also our staff,” Connor said. 

Mertz oversees 11 divisions that manage Ohio’s state parks, preserves and forests. This includes 75 parks. 

Artist’s rendering of the inside of the new nature center. Photo provided by Kathryn Connor

“She (Mertz) just asked me to give her a tour of the facilities and to be very honest about some of the things that are good and some of the things that are bad. We knew that she was looking to do some renovations to the nature center, but we had no idea we were optioned to get a new nature center.” 

The new facility was Mertz’s suggestion, Connor said. 

The funding for the new building came from a partnership with ODNR’s Land and Air Conservation Fund. The funding will go to the construction of the center as well as the features  on display inside. 

The decision behind the specific elements inside the center were a collaboration between Mertz and Connor. 

Construction began in October of 2021, and the bidding process of the contractor began in the springtime of last year, Connor said.

Signage outside the construction site lets visitors see what is coming. Photo by Caroline Haubenstricker

During the bidding process, organized and run by ODNR, companies pitched their ideas for the center, how they would go about it and what materials they would use. Employees of the nature center, including Connor, were able to sit in on the bidding process.

ODNR selected a contractor, Graybach, that hit all the boxes that ODNR and Hueston Woods had created beforehand of what they wanted. 

Hueston Woods receives funding from the park budget allocated by ODNR and the governor’s office every year as well as from donations from locals, Miami University and the Audubon Society. 

“We are still on target to open this summer,” said Connor. “We cannot stress enough how thankful we are to be given this opportunity.” 

“All these animals have come back into our woods, and we need to take care of it. The last couple of years with COVID, there were people who went out and broke limbs off of trees and littered the woods,” Milders said. “We should take care of things and leave without a trace to help preserve the park.”