This is about as wild as it gets in the small city of Meadows Place.
On June 5 the city opened its new Discovery and Nature Center where people can come and have a hands-on experience with nature indoors and out. The center is stocked with a variety of animals that guests can touch and hold while they learn about the different types of wildlife in Texas. There are also learning stations where children and adults can do crafts and activities that give fun facts about things in nature.
“We have all these animals that you get to learn about and hold,” said Parks and Recreation Director Colene Cabezas.
Among the critters are several breeds of rabbits, two types of snakes, bearded dragons, sugar gliders, box turtles, tortoises, bobwhite quail, and a tree frog. They plan to add more animals later.
The center, however, is much more than a miniature zoo. There are touch tables where visitors can handle different objects and try to figure out what they are. They can build a habitat in a box or experience a puppet show. There are kiddy microscopes where objects can be viewed up close. There is a Swap Shop where children can bring in things they’ve found in nature (non-animal), such as rocks or shells, and earn points to exchange the items with other items on the shelves.
Cabezas said there will be a new theme each month and stations will change to match the theme.
“We will have crafts, story time, and animals on parade where the kids dress up in costumes,” she said. “Everything will have an educational component to it.”
All of this takes place on one side of the new center. Out back are more creative spaces where visitors can learn about plants, gardening, and more wildlife. The box turtles and tortoises have their habitats there and soon the bobwhites will be located outdoors. There are fruit trees and plans for a butterfly garden.
Back on the inside, the other part of the facility is built to be a multi-purpose community center. There is a full kitchen where cooking classes can be held or meals prepared for meetings or special occasions. There is a large, flat screen TV mounted above a fireplace that can be used for presentations or entertainment. Upstairs are meeting rooms.
Cabezas said the space is now being used by groups that film video segments, including a cooking show and two doctors who have a program called “What’s Up Doc?”
“This facility is open to the public, you don’t have to be a resident,” Cabezas said, noting that it can be rented out for parties.
She said members of the community have been volunteering to hold programs at the center. She said there has been one on monarch butterflies and others on cooking.
“They have an opportunity to showcase and display their experiences,” she said. “This is truly a community environment.”
The Discovery and Nature Center was a house located next to the city pool and community center that Meadows Place purchased last year for $200,000. Mayor Charles Jessup said he originally eyed the property at 11938 Amblewood Drive for future expansion of the city park, but Cabezas came to him with a proposal that made much more sense. Jessup said the new facility provides some much needed meeting space for civic groups and city committees.
“This is a cultural focal point to help grow our community together,” he said.
“The community was very excited to have a facility like this close to home,” Cabezas added.
She said it took a community effort to convert the house into a center.
She said Regas Construction donated a lot of in-kind work.
“We couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.
Cabezas, a mother of four who is an outdoor enthusiast and a certified Texas Master Naturalist, said it’s more important than ever for people, especially children, to get connected to nature and their community.
“Kids are so detached these days,” she said. “They have to choose to make a connection to nature. It’s too easy for them to be on their phones, or electronics and TV.”
The Discovery and Nature Center is open noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $2 for children, $5 for adults or annual passes can be purchased for $10 per child or $15 per adult.
For more information, visit https://cityofmeadowsplace.org/departments/parks-recreation/upcoming-events/.