Hueston Woods State Park opens new nature center

Hueston Woods State Park celebrated the grand opening of its new nature center with a ribbon cutting, tree planting, natural wildlife activities, refreshments and more on Wednesday.

The new nature center hosts a variety of hands-on displays including how to read the age of a tree, a bird viewing area, fossil hunting, animals native to Hueston Woods and more. The naturalists, who operate the center, also provide programs throughout the week that are free for the public.

“Our focus was getting people comfortable with their surroundings, so say they take a hike here or they went paddling on the lake, anything around them they would have a basic understanding and feel very safe out in nature,” Kathryn Conner, Hueston Woods park manager, said.

The previous nature center was originally built before the 1960s and was located behind the raptor center. While the building is still there, Conner said Hueston Woods is not yet sure what will become of it. The new nature center is located in front of the raptor center by the marina.

In fall 2020, Director Mary Mertz of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources visited Hueston Woods and decided the building was too outdated.

“There was an old nature center but we weren’t able to update it to meet all the things we wanted to provide to all of you, so this is the first brand-new, built from the ground up nature center, and we are thrilled to have it right here in Hueston Woods,” Mertz said.

Construction began in October 2020 and Hueston Woods received federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation fund to support the project. During the ribbon cutting ceremony, Mertz also credited Ohio’s General Assembly for their support throughout the project.

Mertz told Journal-News the goal of this project was to build an environment that adults and children can learn about native species at Hueston Woods.

“We want to spark imagination, spark curiosity, help people when they get out in nature to understand what they’re seeing and to have fun with it.”

Conner said she’s grateful Mertz saw the park’s need for an updated nature center and that Hueston Woods was able to receive federal funding to bring the project to life.

“The idea of recreating is really growing and folks are coming out and camping and staying at the lodges, and to have our focus be the nature center and to have it be to this standard is what we needed and the director saw that and made it happened,” Conner said.

Andrea Yager, an Oxford resident, visited the old nature center many times with her children and was excited to see the new building. She said it’s important to keep educational buildings up-to-date for children to learn about species native to their home.

“It helps us teach our kids a lot more things about nature, and it gets us outside and it’s a place to come and visit,” Yager said.

Jenny George, who is also an Oxford resident, visited the grand opening with her children as well. She said her family tries to make it to the nature center once every year and was surprised to hear about the new building. She said the new nature center is an excellent source for visitors of Oxford.

“It’s nice that other people can come visit and see things that are local to the area,” George said.

The new nature center is opened every day except for Christmas and Thanksgiving from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Naturalists will have programs throughout the week that are free to the public. The nature center is self-guided, so visitors can come anytime.

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