When I was driving through the Hudson River Valley last month on my way to attend a week-long Road Scholar program (www.roadscholar.org ) at Mount Saint Mary's College, a wrong turn on a traffic roundabout in Cornwall, pointed me in the direction of the Outdoor Discovery Center, operated by the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum. Although I had no idea what it was, my morning was open and I like learning about nature, so I decided to check it out!
After driving through a meandering entrance driveway through fields and meadows, I found myself at this charming farmhouse, which turned out to be the headquarters of the Outdoor Discovery Center. An employee there showed me around the facility, which consisted of nature exhibits, the Nature Gift Store, classrooms, and clean restrooms! The mission of the organization is to promote knowledge and appreciation of our natural world, and the unique ecology of the Hudson Highlands. It is a non-profit, and this former farm property was made possible because the farm family who owned it, preferred to see its heritage preserved----rather than bulldozed over, to make yet another concrete-covered "bedroom community addition" for nearby New York City.
Across the parking lot from the farmhouse, was a gigantic, Dutch-style, four-story barn that had been beautifully restored. From looking at their website ( www.hhnm.org ), I learned that the Discovery Center is available for special events such as birthday parties, and this barn would provide a great escape for party-goers in the event of rain! Other programs offered include summer camps, adult/child outings, adult-only adventures, scouting activities, and afterschool programs.
Another feature of the Outdoor Discovery Center is this "Grasshopper Grove". Grasshopper Grove was designed for youngsters as a way to treat "Nature Deficit Disorder", as described in the book by Richard Louv called Last Child in the Woods. It can serve as a bridge between a mowed lawn and the wild woods, that will encourage children to discover nature play spaces.
I was intrigued by the Adirondack-inspired artistic design of the entrance gate, including the wooden grasshopper sculpture on top of the arch!
Adjacent to the Grasshopper Grove play area is a large pond, complete with a park bench for resting and gazing.
The Discovery Center has what it calls the "Discovery Quests Hiking Trails" that have guidesheet/puzzles for each quest, and are designed to get visitors of all ages, to interact along the trail to learn about the environment. The goal of each quest is to find the "hidden message" of each hike. The Pond Quest circles past ponds and cattails, with stops at viewing platforms that overlook the wetlands.
My curiosity was aroused when I saw a mowed path to these 13 posts with numbers on top, stuck in the ground, with a big rectangle in front of them, spelling out the 12 months of the year. An explanatory placard told me I was looking at an installation which would allow for a person's shadow to tell time. I have written about sundials previously in this blog (see March 13, 2009 article about Redding, California's Sundial Bridge), so I understood the basic principles and history of a sundial. However, this one was different, in that the viewer was supposed to stand on the ground tile labeled with the month of their visit. Their shadow would then fall on a post that would tell them the time of day. When I stood on the "July" ground tile, sure enough, my shadow fell on the post labeled with a "10", and it really was ten o'clock in the morning! Now that's what I call "interactive learning about nature"! A "Nature Clock" such as this one is made possible by the majesty of God's creation, and the reliability of the sun. Therefore, I am using it as a visual aid for the Bible verse that says, "So may all your enemies perish, LORD! But may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength." Judges 5:31a NIV
It was nice to see a young mom there with her children, leading them on one of the Discovery Quest Hikes! Besides philanthropic foundation grants, the Discovery Center is funded by individual and family memberships. More information on this is available on their website.
As I approached the farmhouse from the side of the property, I fell in love with the architecture of this rounded sunroom addition. I can only imagine how much pleasure it must provide to visitors inside, who can enjoy the beauty of nature in every direction, regardless of the weather outside. I also was impressed by the numerous shag-bark hickory trees around the homestead. They were not like anything I had ever seen in the Ozarks
After returning from my hike, it felt good to cool off on the farm porch, enjoying the comfortable wicker furniture. As I sat there, I started to smile, remembering another time in my travels that I had been drawn to sit down and rest on some comfortable wicker furniture. For more on that story, you can check out my November 5, 2008, blog post called "Wimbledon and the Royal Box"!
When I was at the Discovery Center, I found out that it is only one part of that "Hudson Highlands Nature Museum". The other part is located in the village of Cornwall-on-Hudson, and is called the "Wildlife Education Center". It too has a Nature Gift Shop, a fee-to-visit wildlife museum, and free hiking trails in the woods.
There were several people on the trails, which start beside the entrance to the wildlife museum, so I decided to check them out.
The trails led through a picturesque area of the Hudson Highlands, with many hardwood tree species, and various forms of small wildlife .
Although it was dry the day I was hiking, bridges have been built to keep hikers from having to wade through streams that bring rainwater and snow down from the mountain tops, to eventually drain into the nearby Hudson River.
Discovering this place to explore the "back woods" of an area just a few miles north of the metropolis of New York City gave me "MILES OF SMILES", and I would highly recommend it! Tricia