Black bears, Venus flytraps and otters will be among the items featured at the Environmental Education Center opening this weekend in Sneads Ferry.
The center, which opens at 10 a.m. Saturday at the new Sneads Ferry Branch of the Onslow County Public Library at 1330 N.C. 210, will feature exhibits and presentations on plants and animals found in the county.
According to Lisa Whitman-Grice, division head for the Onslow County Museum and one of the overseers of the Environmental Center, the land was acquired by the the county in 2011 for the new library with the understanding that an education center on the local environment would be built there. Whitman-Grice said she and a team from the museum were tasked with working to put the center, and its exhibits, together. Whitman-Grice said she hopes the center will be a celebration of the natural beauty Onslow County has to offer.
“Natural beauty has always been a tourist attraction,” Whitman-Grice said. “We want to share our knowledge of those natural features with the general public and we hope this encourages people to not only enjoy it but take care of it.”
Whitman-Grice said the center is designed to be interactive as well as informative. For example, a “naturalist notebook” will be a digital collection of photos of local, natural settings submitted from the public. Those photos can be submitted to the center by through the Onslow County Museum website and will be become a part of the exhibit. Whitman-Grice said that feature won’t be available until after the exhibit is open to the public.
“We’re encouraging people to share those memories with us,” Whitman-Grice said. “It’s one of my favorite elements of the center.”
Whitman-Grice said she hopes the center will teach locals, as well as visitors, about rare and threatened species found in the county, including Venus flytraps, which have been designated as a species of concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the endangered leatherback sea turtle.
“Folks will be very surprised by the rare plants and animals found here,” Whitman-Grice said. “They are part of the history and culture in this area and we hope this creates a sense of stewardship in the area.”
The environmental center will also have a screened outdoor classroom near the building. Whitman-Grice said the classroom will be all natural with no electricity or water running through it. According to Whitman-Grice, plans for a summer camp for children ages 6-13 to be held this year in the classroom are in the works.
Onslow County Public Library Director Estelle Carter said having the environmental center in the same building as the new library, which opened on March 17, has made this a “red letter month” for the public library system. Though the museum isn’t directly affiliated with the library, Carter said said the environmental center may serve as a gateway to the library and to tourists discovering more about the county than the beaches they plan to visit.
“The center will be a tourism destination,” Cater said. “Traffic is alread picking up at the beach and people are asking when the center is going to be open. We’re over the moon about this building and the center.”