by Emily Elliot
Coastal Journal contributor
JEFFERSON — After 15 plus years in Jefferson, Hidden Valley Nature Center (HVNC) continues to grow and expand the programs and experiences it offers the local community and beyond.
Hidden Valley Director Gary Hayward explained the first land was bought in 1997. Eight years later, they acquired a 600-acre parcel of land featuring road frontage, for easier public access, and a yurt, offering overnight accomodations. The addition of those amenities spurred Hayward to open the property to the public.
“We became interested in protecting and conserving this land. Instead of developing it for housing, we wanted to make good use of the resources to educate and inform people about their natural environment,” he said. “Our conservation and community activities started slow, but from the beginning its been very positive seeing people and their enjoyment being here.”
The Nature Center is now a community-sponsored State Wildlife Sanctuary, comprising more than 1,000 acres, with 400 people as paying members. There are more than 25 miles of hiking trails, two miles of which include signs with information about the habitat and vegetation. HVNC now includes three buildings, a yurt and two cabins, and two riverside campsites.
Both cabins were built using wood harvested from the land or donated by volunteers. Hidden Valley is a member of the Forest Stewardship Council, which is similar to organic certification for a farm, said co-founder and volunteer Bambi Jones.
“We do a lot of foresty work here, especially concerning sustainability. We do both woodlot work, and pre-commercial thinning,” she said. “We mill and sell our own lumber, firewood and pulp wood.”
Students from Hidden Valley’s Timber Framing class built the cabins over a long weekend. Jones explained the Information Kiosk, near the entrance, was completed by eight students in just over three days in the end of April.
“We had a 12-year-old help work on this building, in addition to seven adults. A community member brought along his portable saw mill we used to mill the lumber,” said Jones. “Bob Lear is our Timber Framing instructor, he offers a class here about three times per year.”
All told, the Nature Center runs 20 to 30 educational programs a year, she said, on everything from astronomy or butterflies, to spin cast fishing or winter camping skills. Most classes and programs are offered free or for a small fee.
This winter, they held a half marathon and biathlon, each attracting more than 50 participants. “Winter is the busiest time of year for Hidden Valley,” Jones said. “We are one of the only places around to offer groomed cross country ski trails.”
Hidden Valley works with Project Learning Tree, an initiative to help science teachers use nature to enrich their curriculum, forest science experts, and local schools to get local students out in the woods exploring and experiencing nature.
The Education Center building, completed last fall, offers maps, information about the Nature Center and its events. Soon it will also offer educational tool boxes, containing inormational flip cards, questions, a net, and a magnifying glass for exploring the natural enviroment on-site.
All the programs and events could not happen without the dedicated help of members and local volunteers. “We have a core group of great volunteers that keep this place going including folks from Retired, But Not Tired,” Hayward said. “Two weeks ago we had a group of kids from Chewonki help with spring clean-up.”
According to Jones, HVNC has a summer full of great events and programs planned. In June, Lauren Stockwell, a wetland and estuary expert will give a presentation detailing the variety of wetland habitats comprised within HVNC. July brings a presentation by wildflower expert Ted Ellman.
There are two events planned for August. Entimologist Phillip Demaynadier will speak about the diversity of the insect populations at the Nature Center. Later in the month, on August 11 there is a fundraiser planned to support HVNC’s educational programs featuring music by eight local musicians and food provided by Sheepscot General Store.
Hidden Valley also hosts monthly guided nature walks that highlight different areas of the property. For more information on classes or the property, to reserve overnight accomodations or to plan an event at HVNC, call 586-6752 or visit their website at www.hvnc.org.