Lake Roland Park opens na­ture cen­ter

New fa­cil­ity part of mul­ti­year ef­fort to im­prove a ‘di­a­mond in the rough’

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Jill Yesko Shan­non Davis, head ranger, Lake Roland Park

Vis­i­tors to Lake Roland Park say the park’s new $1.4 mil­lion Na­ture and En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter sup­plies a miss­ing piece for a site that’s in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar with res­i­dents on both sides of the Bal­ti­more city-county line.

“Bal­ti­more County saw there was some­thing miss­ing to hold year-round pro­gram­ming, es­pe­cially dur­ing the win­ter months,” said Elise But­ler of the Lake Roland Na­ture Coun­cil, a non­profit that helps ad­min­is­ter the park with the county’s Depart­ment of Recre­ation and Parks. “The na­ture cen­ter was the next log­i­cal step.”

The 594-square-foot fa­cil­ity, which had a for­mal rib­bon-cut­ting Wed­nes­day, is the lat­est ad­di­tion to the park. It in­cludes 500 acres of wet­lands, mead­ows, for­est and the lake, which was dug in the 1850s as a reser­voir for the city.

Of­fi­cials say the na­ture cen­ter of­fers a com­fort­able space for pro­grams that were pre­vi­ously held out­doors, such as wreath­mak­ing classes, a win­ter camp for chil­dren and Trails Over Tru­ancy, a pro­gram that brings city mid­dle-school­ers to the park for en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties.

Shan­non Davis, head park ranger at Lake Roland, said the cen­ter also will al­low the park to ex­pand evening classes and a mas­ter nat­u­ral­ist course that’s run in con­junc­tion with the Univer­sity of Mary­land Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice.

“Weused to hold the pro­gram in a tent,” she said.

The cen­ter in­cludes im­proved park­ing for dis­abled pa­trons and a home for a dozen crea­tures — in­clud­ing Cor­nelia, a 3foot- long al­bino corn snake, and a hiss­ing cock­roach that Davis said is a fa­vorite of chil­dren.

“They love the gross­ness of it,” she said.

While owned by the city, Lake Roland Park is man­aged and main­tained by Bal­ti­more County through a 100-year lease. The county took over in 2009 and closed the park for two years for up­grades that in­cluded build­ing a board­walk from the Falls Road light rail sta­tion, a new pic­nic pav­il­ion, an off-leash dog park and the es­tab­lish­ment of nearly seven miles of vol­un­teer-main­tained hik­ing trails.

It re­opened in Oc­to­ber 2011, and last year un­der­went a name change from Robert E. Lee Park to Lake Roland Park.

County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz said the county has in­vested sig­nif­i­cantly in Lake Roland, which he said was a “di­a­mond in the rough” when the county took Nat­u­ral ar­ti­facts and crea­tures are on dis­play at the Na­ture and En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter at Lake Roland Park. The $1.4 mil­lion fa­cil­ity had a for­mal rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mony Wed­nes­day. The park was for­merly known as Robert E. Lee Park.

“What you see when you come into the park is joy. I didn’t see this five years ago.”

Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz said the county has in­vested $7 mil­lion in Lake Roland Park to en­sure that it “show­cases na­ture at its finest.” it over.

“With this new $1.4 mil­lion na­ture cen­ter, we have now in­vested more than $7 mil­lion to trans­form it into a very ac­ces­si­ble park that show­cases na­ture at its finest,” Kamenetz said.

At­ten­dance at the park has grown steadily, from 42,000 vis­i­tors in 2011 to 315,000 so far this year, with many at­tend­ing pro­grams that in­clude bird counts, en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties and cam­pouts.

“What you see when you come into the park is joy,” Davis said. “I didn’t see this five years ago.”

Ad­vo­cates say im­prove­ments at Lake Roland have been com­pleted with an aware­ness of the park’s his­tory. In 1992, Cor­nelia, an al­bino corn snake, is one of the res­i­dents of the new cen­ter. An­other is a hiss­ing cock­roach. Kids “love the gross­ness of it,” said park ranger Shan­non Davis. much of the park was de­clared a Na­tional His­toric Dis­trict in recog­ni­tion of el­e­ments that in­clude a Greek Re­vival-style pump house, and dam and struc­tures from the Bal­ti­more & Susque­hanna Rail­road.

Davis said the park’s his­tory is just one as­pect of what makes it un­usual.

“We’re one of the few parks in the na­tion that has a light rail go­ing right to it,” she said.

Fu­ture plans in­clude land­scap­ing the cen­ter with na­tive plants and the con­struc­tion of in­ter­pre­tive kiosks along the park’s trails for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

“This has been a very in­ter­est­ing way that this park has evolved,” But­ler said. “It’s go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing how the na­ture cen­ter will be used.”

NICOLE MUNCHEL/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP PHO­TOS

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