Nature center renovation brings new exhibits

Daniel Vasta/The Herald
Interior view of the Patoka Lake Nature Center in Birdseye on Wednesday.


PATOKA LAKE — The Patoka Lake Nature Center has reopened with renovations, giving families new ways to learn about wildlife in the area.

The new features include an entire new wall showcasing animals and birds from the lakeshore and the surrounding area, along with a managing wildlife section that encompasses information about controlled forest burning.

The renovated nature center also features a terrarium and aquarium exhibit with two box turtles, a tiger salamander and an albino alligator snapping turtle.

“Our displays have been relatively the same since the late 80s, early 90s, so we were looking to update them and just refresh the overall feel of them,” said Dana Reckelhoff, an Indiana Department of Natural Resources interpretive naturalist at Patoka Lake.

Reckelhoff said one of the box turtles was saved after getting hit and injured by a vehicle and given to the nature center. The other three creatures were turned in after they were confiscated from people keeping them as illegal pets.

The herptiles exhibit at the Patoka Lake Nature Center in Birdseye on Wednesday.

Below the displays are various boxes filled with themed items like snake skin and turtle bones that visitors can reach their hand into.

“We had a touch-and-feel table before the renovations and we wanted to keep that concept, but change it up a little to fit with the theme of the new animals,” Reckelhoff said.

The nature center is also home to a bald eagle, red-tailed hawk and Eastern screech owl.

Renovations were completed in the last week of April and the worked totaled about $20,000 for the state.

The nature center, located in the Newton-Stewart State Recreation Area, is open year-round, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and is used for programs and other special events.

A taxidermy Virginia opossum on display at the Patoka Lake Nature Center.

“We are excited to have everyone come out and see the displays,” Reckelhoff said.

The interior contains nature and heritage displays related to the area and a bird observation room, in addition to the new displays.

Backyard wildlife inhabit the gardens outside of the nature center, as do a real-life eagle’s nest replica and an outdoor viewing area.

The 8,800 acre Patoka Lake is the second-largest reservoir in Indiana, behind Lake Monroe and consists of heavily wooded areas and deep terrain.

The man-made lake provides flood control and water supply, and general recreation and fish and wildlife opportunities. It cost $25 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build it in late 1970s.

The nature center, located at 3084 N. Dillard Road., Birdseye, first opened with the property.

The facility entertains about 2,000 people each month and Reckelhoff said she expects high attendance when the beach is opened. She said they haven’t been able to open it yet because of flooding that impacted the area.

The nature center will host 20 interpretive programs this month, including a guided nature hike, turtle walk and selfie scavenger hunt.

An Eastern box turtle in the herptiles exhibit the Patoka Lake Nature Center.

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