As Spring approaches, the Woodlands Nature Station in Land Between the Lakes is opening its doors for the season. Lead naturalist, John Pollpeter, visits Sound Good to discuss the Nature Station's programs and wildlife viewing opportunities.
"I think the thing that makes the Nature Station kind of unique and fun to visit is it's in the middle of what we call the Woodlands Nature Watch Area," Pollpeter begins, "which is one of the best wildlife viewing areas that you're going to find in Land Between the Lakes. There are lots of roads and trails and lakes that you can get around to see that wildlife. It has a number of diverse habitats: river bottomlands, uplands, prairie, shoreline, lakeshore. These are all things that bring in all sorts of wildlife. If people want to go and see wildlife, this particular area is the best."
The Nature Station is in the center of a wildlife viewing 'hub' of Land Between the Lakes that spans 7,000-acres. The building itself "was actually built for what was called the Kentucky Woodlands National Wildlife Refuge," Pollpeter explains. "It was designated that in the 30s by Franklin Roosevelt to bring back a lot of game species that we call common now - white-tailed deer, turkeys, beaver, raccoons, Canada geese."
"Places like Hematite, Honker, and even the trails were CCC [Conservation Civilian Corps] projects. The whole idea about the area was to bring back wildlife. Even prior to the national wildlife refuge, [the Land Between the Lakes area] was an iron strip mine. Land Between the Lakes is known for its iron furnaces. There were eight furnaces that were active during the 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the largest ones was at the Nature Station. Like most mines, they kind of go boom and bust. It was taken over to try to restore it back into a native habitat, and many wildlife species were brought back in that particular area."
The Woodlands Nature Station puts on a multitude of programs throughout the year, highlighting certain species, seasons, or holidays. "We're trying to get people out to introduce them back into the woods, particularly kids," Pollpeter says. "A lot of our programming deals with families and children. I like to think that we're the first introduction [to nature] to a lot of kids."
"We're entering such a digital age; there's a lot of disconnection with kids and the outdoors. It can be kind of a scary place for them. I think we're a friendly location where a three-year-old, four-year-old, can get more accustomed to not only being in the woods but seeing some of the wildlife you're going to see there."
The Nature Station has been hosting school, church, and scout groups since 1964. The Nature Station gardens, backyard wildlife habitat demonstrations, and rescued wildlife became staples of the program in the 80s. Today, roughly 50,000 individuals visit the Woodlands Nature Station per year. This number is comparable to larger metropolitan nature reserves in Memphis, Chattanooga, and Memphis, despite its relatively rural location in western Kentucky.
A full calendar of events and programs held at the Woodlands Nature Station can be found online. Most programs are geared towards children but can be enjoyed by nature-lovers of all ages. This year, the Nature Station will celebrate its 25th annual hummingbird fest. About 250 hummingbirds will visit the Nature Station's one-acre backyard per day during the warmer months.
While the Nature Station is an excellent resource for learning from naturalists and seeing certain wildlife up close, Pollpeter encourages individuals to go out and explore the Land Between the Lakes area on their own.
"I always like to encourage people, especially at this time of year, spring, to hit some of our trails we have. We have five loop hiking trails out there, including Hematite and Honker Trail. During the summer months, we rent canoes and kayaks so you can get out on the water. Honker Lake is one of the best wildlife viewing lakes that you're going to come across with beavers, otters, eagles, and osprey hanging out there all the time. I definitely feel like coming out to some of our special events, like Cool Critter Fest, which is our kids' festival, [and] Hummingbird fest is a good introduction to our area," Pollpeter concludes.
This month, the Woodlands Nature Station is open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. From April to October, the station will be open daily during the same hours. More information on the Woodlands Nature Station can be found on the LBL website.