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Squam Lakes Science Center marks 50th anniversary with upgrades, new exhibit

Five-year-old Alessandria was happy to experience life as a turtle when she and her family visited the new Water Matters Pavilion at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center last week. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
May 11, 2016
HOLDERNESS — Squam Lakes Natural Science Center is showcasing a lot of natural wonders for the public this year as they celebrate not only their 50th year in operation, but the opening of a new exhibit that is guaranteed to be a hit with people of all ages.

Their Nature Matters Capital Campaign has been underway for several years now and has allowed for many improvements and expansions to the facility. Funds from the campaign and its supporters, have produced wonderful new exhibits and features such as an educational wood burning plant and the Gordon Center Interactive Playscape that opened last July.

There were also upgrades made to current exhibits, as well as behind the scenes wildlife care facilities.

As the final portion of that initiative though, their new Water Matters Pavilion, open for the first time this year, will bring a whole new perspective of the aquatic world to their visitors.

Water Matters is a one-of-a-kind exhibit, with many hands on experiences. It begins on the outside deck where children can crawl into a turtle shell or beaver lodge, play in a waterfall feature on the warmer days or look out across the pond, where they can observe aquatic creatures in their natural environment.

"Soon we'll have cameras here so people can see turtles, birds and other forms of wildlife that live right here in our the pond," said Executive Director Iain MacLeod.

Meanwhile, inside the Water Matters exhibit there is an abundance of things to further see and explore.

Aquatic aquariums with live animal displays of bullfrogs, wood frogs, a green frog and American toad start everyone off. From there they will find warm water fish such as small mouth bass, pumpkin seeds, white suckers and brown bullhead catfish, along with a cold water species tank that holds other native species like trout and salmon. Above the aquariums and terrariums, information on each species introduces the public to their occupants.

There is also a large glassed-in natural habitat where a live mink that can be observed, hands on exhibits about ice on New Hampshire's lakes and mountains, and a special exhibit on aquatic birds such as the loon and osprey. Each features unique modern technology that brings the natural world up close to visitors.

"Critter cams" occupy another wall filled with monitors where people can watch live cameras focused on peregrine falcon and eagle nests, as well as many other natural wonders.

Other highly innovative and technological exhibits educate people on the importance of groundwater and there is even a kinetic sand watershed where people can push buttons that drain the lake basins. They can then create cloud cover with their hand to see the effects of rainwater rushing down the hills and mountains.

Most amazing is a virtual, hands on video tour of the Squam Lakes watershed.

"A Plymouth State University student worked with us to get video of the river, streams and lake. People are now able to control their own tour of the watershed by turning a wheel here in front of the screen and seeing all that is out there," said MacLeod.

Like many things at Squam Lake Natural Science Center, the new Water Matters exhibit is a continuing work in progress and visitors can look forward to many additions to it and other features at the center in the weeks and even years to come.

Down the trail a bit the Gordon Interactive Playscape (otherwise known as the Predator-Prey Adventure) is also ready for youngsters to experience the life of a squirrel. They are sure to burn off a lot of energy following fun instructions from strategically located wheels, which they can spin to discover their next squirrel adventure. Simulated trees, "dangerous" highway crossings, pursuing fox and a targeted bird feeder all provide a number of invigorating activities for youngsters that ends with a fun trip down a twisting tubular slide.

On top of all of that, there are the remaining walking trails that lead past educational live animal exhibits such as bear, deer, coyote, fox, the ever playful otters and even a real mountain lion.

Live bird exhibits displaying hawks, vultures and bald eagles can also be found along the way. Besides the animals there are wildflowers to observe, glass enclosed beehives, a boardwalk over a marsh, geological displays and much more that are all intended to entertain and educate everyone on New Hampshire's natural world.

Picnic grounds are available for all-day visits and adventurous individuals can later head out on a few hiking trails behind the center that lead to higher natural terrain and provide an even greater outdoor experience.

When the day is done, visitors are also invited to stop by the Howling Coyote Gift Shop where this year two great books from Squam Lakes Natural Science Center are on sale.

The first is staff naturalist Margaret Gillespie's book, "Nearer to Nature," a wonderful compilation of her past writings and photographs from the center. Naturalist and bird specialist Dave Erler also recently published a wonderful hands on book for families and teachers to enjoy with children, titled "50 Nature Activities for Kids." Spiral bound for easy access in the outdoors, it provides a number of fun projects like homemade waterscopes to peak beneath the surface of lakes and streams and other great ideas for kids.

Squam Lakes Science Center also hosts a number of special educational events and programs throughout the summer. Schedules and times for each can be found on their Web site, www.nhnature.org.

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