A new tank holding 300 gallons of water is home to turtles at the Lake St. Clair Metropark Nature Center.

A new tank holding 300 gallons of water is home to turtles at the Lake St. Clair Metropark Nature Center.

Photo provided by Huron-Clinton Metroparks

A whole new world for Lake St. Clair Metropark Nature Center

Facility receives upgrades thanks to grant

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published February 22, 2021

 The  soft-shelled turtle now has room to swim after renovations to the center.

The soft-shelled turtle now has room to swim after renovations to the center.

Photo provided by Huron-Clinton Metroparks


HARRISON TOWNSHIP — From a dated facility with open tanks with lights and equipment visible to visitors, to a modern center with sleek decorative wall wraps that enclose tanks so they appear embedded in nature, the 32-year-old Nature Center at Lake St. Clair Metropark has undergone a facelift thanks to a grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“We were very excited to be awarded this back in 2016,” said Jennifer Jaworski, chief of interpretive services for Huron-Clinton Metroparks during a Feb. 11 virtual ribbon cutting of the center. “We had the green light to move forward in the fall of 2019.”

Changes to the center, located at 31300 Metropolitan Parkway, included new carpeting, new exhibits, and improved lighting and habitats throughout the facility to provide interactive components to the exhibits and the “best healthcare possible for our animals,” she said.

The Huron-Clinton Metroparks unveiled the renovations within the 4,500 square foot Nature Center at Lake St. Clair Metropark during the Feb. 11 Huron-Clinton Metroparks Board of Commissioners meeting, showing commissioners and the public the $60,000 worth of improvements and changes to the facility. A $45,000 Recreation Passport grant from the MDNR helped pay for the renovations.

The grant supported the complete renovation of the wildlife interpretive exhibits, including interactive interpretive displays, updated flooring and lighting, updated finishes, a new tank display wall, and a new turtle tank that combines the four nature center turtles into one tank, making them easier to see and interact with visitors.

Julie Champion, eastern district interpretive supervisor, said they added natural materials and created more realistic habitat spaces for the animals at the center. They also updated all tanks with energy-efficient LED and UV lighting and created a dedicated space for supplies and animal care outside of the public’s view.

The new displays and the tank wall give the space a more modern and interactive experience, and they make daily care of the animals easier by giving nature center staff access to the tanks behind the scenes, as well as giving the center more space for storage. In addition, tank openings will no longer be accessed from the public area, reducing the likelihood of unintentional harm coming to the animals from visitors.

A large new turtle tank holding 300 gallons of water was a big portion of the project cost, but it is now home to several of the center’s turtles. The park plans to add more hands-on and interpretive labels around the tank in the future, Champion said.

The graphic wrap blends other tanks into the environment, which helps the animals feel like they are out in nature, she explained.

“It really has increased their activity and how they move around,” she said. “We worked hard at researching the needs of the animals, in terms of lighting, temperature (and) more room for them to move around.”

Recycled materials were used for signage and the carpeting in the center, and there is also a new interactive display where visitors will be able to hear the sounds of the different frogs so they can get an idea of what they would act like in the wild.

The soft-shelled turtle also has a new tank, giving him much more room to burrow in the sand while also having space to swim around — something that was lacking in his former tank, Champion pointed out.

“They’re difficult to see in the wild because they’re very secretive, and they hide in the sand,” she said.

The Nature Center is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions, but staff are offering programs to school classrooms, scout groups, homeschool groups, civic and senior groups, and they will be sharing the new exhibits with visitors as soon as the center can safely open.

“I’m happy for the students and the parents and the kids who are able to get at least the virtual (interpretation) while we can’t get there in person,” said Board Vice-Chair Jaye Quadrozzi during the meeting, held via Zoom.

She said the renovations and improvements look “absolutely spectacular.”

The MDNR grant is funded through the sales of Michigan Recreation Passport, which residents have the option of contributing to when they renew their license plate. The passport allows access to state parks, recreation areas and boating access sites, trails, state forest campgrounds, and more while helping to preserve those sites. Since 2011, Recreation Passport grants to communities have paid for more than $12 million in 225 parks and recreation improvement projects throughout the state.