EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — In the hills of southern Columbiana County sits a diamond in the rough, the largest natural history display between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Here you can come face-to-face with a mountain lion, size up its teeth and compare your hand with its fierce paws.
You can see an all-inclusive Ohio hawk display, which is something to remember, as it is hard to catch a glimpse of these federally protected birds due to their nocturnal habits.
These and hundreds of other animal displays have been cleaned, rearranged and prepared for the opening this month of the Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center, located in Beaver Creek State Park.
In 2011, the center, operated entirely by volunteer staff, opened an additional 3,000 square feet, and this year, they have added another room, approximately 850 square feet.
Beaver Creek Wildlife Center is open the first weekend of May through the first weekend of October.
Hours: Saturdays – 1-5 p.m., Sundays 1-5 p.m. Some extended hours based on programing.
The new room will serve as the North American Room and will be home to large and small mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. Murals, painted by local artist Diane Less, will cover the walls and add to the real-life atmosphere.
Throughout the summer, attendees will see the room come together as the volunteers work to create the experience, with hopes that the room will be open to the public in late summer, according to John Ferrante, president of the Beaver Creek Education Center Volunteers Association.
The old North American room has been converted to a hands-on room.
“We encourage kids to explore and touch everything,” said Kathy Cattrell, the association’s treasurer. “While parents are usually saying ‘don’t touch that,’ in this room, kids of all ages will be able to learn through hands-on experiences.”
Through the winter, volunteers have built a bear cave and beaver dam, and youth can climb in and on these structures while learning about nature.
The association started to collect money for the most recent expansion project in 2014. In 2016, they were awarded a $50,000 state capital improvement grant and organized a letter-writing campaign to complete the hands-on room. So far, they have collected about $60,000 in additional funds and continue to look for donations to expand parking and add to their collections.
The new space makes room for their moose heads, bobcat, mountain lion, white-tailed deer and other large animals, and expands the area they have for educational classes and presentations.
The center hosts many amateur experts, who bring their passion to programming at the center, Ferrante said.
The center, a non-profit, has been catering to community needs since 2000. It started in a small house the park ranger used to occupy.
The center got its start with a collection from Jim Kerr, a retired biology teacher at Beaver Local High School. Several volunteers banded together to host a few programs and, in 2001, it opened to visitors. Since then, the organization has adding to their attractions, resources and collections.
They have roughly 40 members who contribute in their own ways, Cattrell said.
“We all have our specialties,” said the retired high school science teacher. “There is always something someone can contribute.”
The center is home to more than 300 mounts and over 300 animal skins. Their bird egg collection has reached 220 species, most collected in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
There is also a large insect collection under the direction of Janis Kell; a collection of rocks and minerals under the direction of Cheryl Mattevi; and a collection of native American artifacts donated by Bob and Denise Lane.
“It’s not just entertainment, but everything we do is educational,” Ferrante said. “You can learn anything you want online in 15 seconds, but until you come and see it for yourself, it’s hard to grasp.”
Like seeing the taxidermy bear, he said. “The claws, his size and his teeth — that experience makes the impact.”
The reptile and amphibian display is inclusive to all species found in Columbiana County. They are made out of clay and painted by a local artist to look lifelike.
Other displays like the bird collection help nature enthusiasts and children learn about the animal, identify it at the center and then go out into the woods or down by the creek and find them in the wild, Ferrante said.
Ferrante has been a member for four years, and his passion is ecology and habitats.
“It is important that we understand where and how animals live, so we don’t disrupt them during building projects, or our county could lose many native species,” he said.
“Our group is not political, we are for best practices. We are for people doing things the best way.”
In addition to collections, volunteers continue to improve the grounds’ sustainability. In 2012, they put in a rain garden, which takes run-off rain and waters the plants through a piping system underground. All the plants in the garden are native to Columbiana County.
The center is also home to live snakes and turtles that visitors can observe. A TV screen shows nesting bluebirds via a live camera feed from a bluebird box right outside the center.
The center hosts 9,000-10,000 people per year, both at the center and through off-site programming. Although located in the state park, the center is owned by the non-profit association and receives no tax dollars or state funding. It relies on community partners, volunteers, grants and donations to keep the doors open.
May 6 Wildflower Hike 10 a.m.-noon
May 13 Insect Collecting for Dummies noon-1 p.m.
May 20 Geology Road Show 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
June 10 Snakes and Turtles of Ohio noon-1 p.m.
June 24 Macroinvertebrates and Water Quality 10 a.m.-noon
June 25 Amazing Honeybees 1- 5 p.m.
July 8 Mushroom Program 9 a.m.-noon
July 29 Birds of Prey 10 a.m.-noon
Aug. 5 Tracks, Scat, and Splat 11 a.m.-noon
Aug. 19 Butterflies and Caterpillars 1-5 p.m.
Sept. 9 Coyotes: Facts and Fiction 11:30 a.m.- 12:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 Lichens ID Workshop 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sept. 30 Sip and Paint 6-8 p.m.
Oct. 7 Pioneer Days in Beaver Creek State Park 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Oct. 7 Falconry Event 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Oct. 8 Pioneer Days in Beaver Creek State Park 10 a.m.-4 p.m.