Nature Exploration Area
The Nature Exploration Area is intended to be a space where visitors can interact with nature in a way that they are not allowed to in the park at large. It will also provide opportunities to strengthen existing programming and for introducing new programming at the Nature Center. Major features are listed below.
Eastern Box Turtle Sculpture
The Eastern Box Turtle is the mascot of the Harris Nature Center and greets guests as a main feature of the Nature Exploration Area. Local artist Doug DeLind was commissioned by the Harris Nature Center Foundation to construct a turtle sculpture that guests young and old climb over, under, and through. The concrete turtle is approximately six feet tall and eight feet long. Patterns on the shell were made with tiles and stones donated by local businesses and individuals. Mr. DeLind completed the sculpture in 2013. Thank you to Okemos Kiwanis Club and Helen and Howard Tanner for their generous sponsorship of the Turtle Sculpture!
Children have a great time pretending to be beavers and other animals at the Beaver Lodge. This is the place for true imaginative play! The feature includes an "underwater" entrance like a real beaver lodge and stairs to the glass plate water surface where beavers can run among the lily pads. David Vanderklok and Studio [intrique] Architects designed, built and donated their services and materials for this project. It was completed in 2018. Major donors include Kelly Brothers, Inc., VanErmen Smith, Aaron Glass Company, Nobody Wants a Skinny Santa LLC, Helen & Howard Tanner, and Preuss Pets. Special thanks to the many community members who made donations to the project.
Michigan Fossil Dig
The dig includes specimens from Michigan's fossil history: real fossils and replicas from the Paleozoic seas (540 - 300 million years ago), as well as casts of Pleistocene mammal bones (14,000 - 10,000 years ago). Visiting amateur paleontologists can dig for fossils and use interpretive signs and fact cards to identify what they find. Discover corals, trilobites, brachiopods, gastropods, crinoids, cephalopods, fish bones, plant impressions and more from the ancient paleozoic seas! Uncover casts of mammoth, mastodon and giant beaver bones and teeth! The project was completed in 2016. Many thanks to: the American Institute of Professional Geologists, Michigan Basin Geological Society, Red Oak Foundation, Helen and Howard Tanner, Cyrus Miller, Dr. Danita Brandt, Central Michigan Lapidary and Mineral Society, Lafarge Quarry, Besser Museum, Team Elmer’s, Joe Pennoni, Luke Bossenbroek, Brian Van Order, Debbie Hottle, Nick Van Frankenhuyzen. Leslie Groves, Hannah Macdonald, Bob Reszka, Steve Wilson, Ron Elowski, Bone Clones, and Patty Robbins for coordinating the project.
Haslett-Okemos Rotary Club Gathering Circle
A magical place in the woods...an outdoor classroom...an amphitheater for creative performances and presentations! The Gathering Circle was constructed in 2015 with a $10,000 sponsorship from the Haslett-Okemos Rotary Club, a $5,000 award from Flagstar Bank's Michigan Makeover Grant (thanks for everyone who voted!), and generous gifts from Helen and Howard Tanner and Okemos Kiwanis Club.
A climbing and balancing experience on real logs, anchored together in an informal “pileup” just behind the turtle sculpture. Thanks to a $1000 gift from Meridian Area Business Association (MABA) and donated labor from Brian Van Order and Tony Bauer, this project was completed in 2015.
Sticks and Stones
Completed in 2014, this area is a space where children can build with nature's materials. Kid-inspired projects have included a giant bird nest, shelter, and a fox den. Thanks to the efforts of the MSU Accounting Club whose members dug out the pit and brought in all the saplings and rocks for this feature.
Red Cedar River Overlook
The River Overlook Project was completed in 2012. Follow the river path to this viewing platform located behind the nature building, overlooking the Red Cedar River. It is available as an educational arena for school programs and to general public visitors when the park is open. There are two interpretive exhibits associated with the overlook to enhance visitors' experience. Brian Van Order of Michigan Demolition and Excavation and his team installed the sidewalk leading to the overlook site. Kevin Palmiter of KP Construction built the overlook. A big thanks to Kevin and to the Okemos Home Depot for providing volunteers and materials for this project.