(Scroll down to see a slideshow of before and after Discovery Center pictures during construction last fall, and during FFA camp in June, 2017)
CARROLLTON, Ohio — While it is impossible to prevent all disasters, it is possible to rebuild something even better than what was destroyed.
According to Todd Davis, executive director of Camp Muskingum, the camp hosts three FFA camps, up to 40 schools for the Nature’s Classroom environmental education program and about 163 outside groups every year.
The new Discovery Center will help the camp host these groups because of the added space and organization and the convenience of the location. The new building is closer to the rest of the main facilities and fulfilled the camp’s goal of having an assembly area that can seat 300 people comfortably and includes a stage.
The old nature center was in a corner of the camp, away from other main buildings, the main offices and the cafeteria. The new center is in the middle of the camp, next to the lake, which makes it more convenient for campers.
On the top floor of the Discovery Center, there are four classrooms that will be used for FFA camps and Nature’s Classroom. Davis said one of the classrooms will be used when the program has students doing dissections. In the past, they used the porch of the old center, but this new classroom has counters and sinks that will make it a good place for dissections.
Another classroom has space for an aquarium behind a wall, with windows that look in on the animals. On the opposite side of the room, there are carpeted stairs for students to sit and watch presentations about the animals. Camp Muskingum currently has a python, turtles and a chinchilla. There is also a lobby on the top floor, where Davis hopes to put an aquaponics unit.
The first floor includes a welcome center, where Davis plans to put four to six kiosks focused on energy, including one on ethanol and one on fracking. There is also a warming kitchen.
Davis said he anticipates being able to host weddings when there are no other events or groups scheduled to use the camp, and the warming kitchen will contribute to the needs of wedding parties and other groups who choose to bring in some of their own food.
“We thought not only about our needs, but our customers’ needs,” Davis said.
Lastly, the first floor has a large meeting room, with a stage and a projector and screen, that will be able to seat at least 300 people in chairs.
Davis said because the old meeting area was smaller, students would often have to sit on the floor for events, including outside speakers and camp talent shows. This new space will allow the camp to be able to “comfortably put everyone in chairs.”
Davis said funding the project took a while since they “had never asked anyone for money.” Camp Muskingum had always taken care of its own funding in other areas.
“It takes a while for people to understand who you are” before they are willing to donate, said Davis. Over time, the FFA camp was able to raise $1.8 million. The entire project cost $2.3 million, so they are still seeking donors to help cover the last half million to pay for the building.
Donors so far have included individuals, the Timken Foundation in Canton, the Hoover foundation, the FFA foundation and other organizations.
In 2012, Camp Muskingum used the insurance money to build its FFA pavilion, which served as a makeshift nature center. While the building was adequate for a while, it was only about half the size of the space that burned down and the space in the new Discovery Center.
The animals are still in the makeshift building, but will be moved to the new space in late July and early August. When they are, Davis plans to use the makeshift building as a bird observation area, since it is in a corner of the camp closer to the woods. He plans to put up signs with information on what birds to look for and information about different species.
The new building will help not only with FFA camps and Nature’s Classroom, but with hosting outside groups. Davis said outside groups are the “bread and butter” of the camp. Many outside groups will pay to use the facilities at the camp, including meeting areas, dorms and the cafeteria.
Groups that Camp Muskingum has hosted in the past include Faith Family Church, drug and alcohol prevention programs, drug rehabilitation programs and local bands for band camps. The added space will allow Camp Muskingum to double book with smaller groups, maximizing their space.
Davis said they started construction on the Discovery Center in April 2016, and held a grand opening in May 2017.
The landscaping was just finished the week of June 26, and the rest of the nature center will be fully ready, with animals moved into place and classrooms furnished, in late August, when the first school comes to Camp Muskingum for Nature’s Classroom.