By Kristi Kates
It‘s difficult to believe that Raven Hill Discovery Center has been around for 20 years. The Center in East Jordan is one of those places intrinsic to Northern Michigan; it just seems like it‘s always been there, yet it manages to stay fresh and find new ways to introduce visitors to new discoveries.
Celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, co-founder Cheri Leach (with Tim Leach) explains how Raven Hill Discovery Center has evolved.
“Since 1991, Raven Hill‘s focus on connections have strengthened,“ Leach says. “Visitors experience the strands of science and technology, culture, history, and the arts interwoven throughout the Center‘s hands-on exhibits and displays.“
Over the past 20 years the Center has added five outbuildings and six major outdoor exhibits.
“Current facilities include the main museum, fiber studio, print shop, ARt Pavilion, school house, alternative energy house, and tree house,“ Leach says. “Our outdoor exhibits range from a half-acre pond and medicinal gardens to The Ancient World, the labyrinth, wetlands boardwalk, the Earth Tones Music Garden, the Taxonomic Trail with trees grouped by families, ‘Art and Architecture in Smallville,‘ and ‘Beyond Jurassic Park: The Earth‘s Geologic History.‘ Programs change with the seasons.“
MUSEUMS AND CRITTERS
With so many offering, it might be a little tricky choosing what to start with at the Center. Leach suggests the hands-on areas, and visiting some of Raven Hill Discovery Center‘s ‘residents.‘
“Visitors enjoy the hands-on museum indoors, and the Earth Tones Music Garden outside,“ she says. “The average indoor visit is a couple of hours; most visitors explore indoors and then move to the outdoor exhibits, depending on the weather. When it‘s really hot, the outdoors is popular early in the morning, and then the indoors is a cool retreat in the afternoon. Some bring a picnic lunch and stay all day.“
The animals are the other most popular attraction, “especially Sheldon the tortoise and Checkers the corn snake,“ Leach smiles. Sheldon, the African spurred tortoise, is another favorite. The Center is, in part, also an orphanage.
“We take in animals that people buy at pet stores and eventually don‘t want any more,“ Leach says. “So we try to educate people about what makes a good pet, and encourage them to visit the snakes, lizards, and turtles here.“
“We also do not keep any Michigan animals,“ she continues, “Michigan protects its animals, and there is a fine for catching and keeping Michigan reptiles or amphibians or fish in your homes, so we don‘t keep them here. Even though we have the proper permits, it just sends the wrong message.“
PROGRAMS AND CLASSES
On weekends and during the summer, the Center is popular with the public exploring the grounds and buildings. Field trips, teachers completing work for graduate credits, and outreach programs round out the schedule.
“Raven Hill was recognized as a Crooked Tree Arts Center eddi Award recipient for Arts and Cultural Organizations,“ Leach says, “and has also garnered 11 consecutive grant awards from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.“
Until Labor Day, the Center is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Once winter arrives, the center is still open on weekends (noon to 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays, and 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Sundays), and Leach says they often add extra days over holiday breaks. Classes are also offered year-round.
The Center also offers over 90 classes, Leach says. “Some of the most popular are learning to make hot glass beads, polishing fossils, and learning survival skills.“
Classes are scheduled by request. “Participants can call and tell us what class they want, the day they want, and the time they want, and most of the time we can accommodate them.“
Special events during the fall and winter include a new astronomy event on September 22 celebrating the Fall Equinox, the Winter Equinox on December 21, and the center‘s annual Holiday Open House, “which is always December 28th,“ Leach says.
FUTURE AND FUNDING
The future looks bright for Raven Hill Discover Center, especially with the addition of astronomy expert Bryan Shumaker.
“Bryan and his wife, Linda, recently retired to Northern Michigan,“ Leach explains, “Bryan was director of Oakland University‘s Astronomy Observatory, and he will share his enthusiasm about astronomy and telescopes, plus his plans for an Astronomy Club, during our September 22 event. The Center actually has one of the best observing sites in all of Michigan with a dark sky and low horizons.“
Raven Hill‘s ‘Beyond Jurassic Park‘ outdoor exhibit is expanding, as well, with the addition of a ‘Coral Reef‘ that will feature artistic interpretations of prehistoric creatures that lived in the shallow seas that covered Michigan 450 milion years ago, including the famed ‘Petoskey Stones.‘
Also in the works - a Time Tunnel that the center hopes to build next year; but that one might be up to you.
“The Center is looking for grants and donations for that project,“ Leach says, “it will be a long, narrow exhibit that will have ‘timelines‘ that will highlight the changes over time in buttons, toys, cameras, irons, typewriters, calculators, washing machines, and other aspects of our daily lives. Visitors will be able to stop at 1650 to see what people were using, then, for example, move back to 1250 or forward to 1950.“
Raven Hill Discovery Center is actually always looking for support, Leach says. Their biggest need right now is more space.
“It would be nice to not have to keep ‘morphing‘ the print shop into a glass studio or wood shop,“ she says.
Those interested can contact the center to help, learn more about the Center itself, or make plans to visit; the Center is fortunate in that it‘s already so well-done, it‘s likely to inspire donations and help from its visitors for another 20 years.
*Raven Hill Discovery Center is located at 04737 Fuller Road in East Jordan, telephone 231-536-3369 (toll-free 877-833-4254); more info can be found online at www.ravenhilldiscoverycenter.org.*