Hidden in the midst of the hike and bike trails that lead through Zilker Park is an Austin jewel: the Austin Science and Nature Center. The nature center offers many educational and interesting features, including interactive displays, hands-on exhibits, science trails with recorded information at each stop, and a live wildlife collection.
The center also is home to the Discovery Labs, which include seven mini-labs that explore the study of mammalogy, ornithology, herpetology, and geology, and there are collections of butterflies, bats, and bones along with the labs and other displays. There is also an authentic Texas cave to explore, and eco-detective kits for children and young adults to study and make conclusions based on evidence they obtain while on the trails regarding the different sciences and ecologies in and around the center, reinforcing the participant’s learning abilities and critical thought processes while having fun.
There is also a Small Wonders exhibit with different insects, reptiles, bugs, and other small creatures, and the live wildlife exhibit features over fifty different types of wild animal life native to the central Texas area, including a large collection of owls, hawks, eagles, a red fox, a wolf, an alligator, and many other species, some with their young.
In the summer, there are many different camps held at the center for kids with emphasis on marine life, biology, and other scientific disciplines, and a breakfast with the birds series for younger children too. Currently, there is an interactive exhibit called the Naturalist Workshop and Trade Counter where children and young adults can study, view, experiment and trade among themselves the different rocks, bones, shells, fossils, and other interesting flora and fauna that they find, including microscopes and reference materials for their use, and staff members to assist and monitor them while they study.
An interesting feature which was fairly recently added to the center is the dino-pit where a simulated dinosaur environment has been set up for study of fossils, and other pre-historic finds, such as ancient bones, fossilized leaves and the like. Another very educational facility at the complex is the Beverly Sheffield Education Center which is housed in the old bathhouse at Barton Springs Pool, named for one of the first lifeguards at Barton Springs who went on to become the first director of the Austin Parks and Wildlife Department years later. Mr. Sheffield remained active at the center even after retiring from the city position, and he was commemorated for his many years of service and outstanding contributions to the Science and Nature Center and the Zilker Park area as well.
One of the most educational and interactive exhibits at the center studies the Barton springs ecology system along with the Edwards Aquifer and its many distinctive features, and the exhibit is called the Splash into the Edwards Aquifer. This exhibit also includes the study of conservation and the interactive exhibits include real life phenomena, live specimens, and working models so youngsters can study ways to contribute to the environment that relates to their community and lives.
The Austin Science and Nature Center is located at 301 Nature Center Drive, and the center is open most days until shortly after sunset, so if you want to see some really creepy crawly things, and find out how they work, where they live, and many other interesting bits of nature-related information, be sure to visit the center soon!