Austin Nature & Science Center
Founded in 1960, the Austin Nature & Science Center is dedicated to teaching visitors of all ages about science and the natural world. The center features exhibits and numerous programs, including a hands-on nanoscience and STEM exhibit; "dino pit," where visitors can excavate fossils to learn about paleontology; naturalist workshop, in which staff members teach children about about various nature topics; live animal exhibits; summer camps and preschool programs. Other activities like rock climbing and archery are also offered. The Austin Nature and Science Center provides a hands on education experience for children to explore the natural environment and its importance. The center has been established for fifty year and is located at Zilker Park, which is a central location in Austin.
Backstory and Context
The Austin Nature and Science Center was opened in 1960 and was originally located in the Deep Eddy bathhouse; however, the building itself was not very appealing or inviting to the public. This made it so that many activities were outdoors and not inside the actual building. Later in the decade the city proposed moving the center to Zilker Park, but not without controversy. In 1973, a group calling themselves "Friends of Zilker Park" appealed to city council "in an effort to preserve park land...for all Austin Citizens and kill once and for all the Austin Natural Science Association's continued request to erect their million dollar headquarters in Zilker Park."1 Primarily, the group feared that building a center in Zilker Park would take away the limited natural park space. However, most newspaper writers argued in favor of the relocation because of the additional educational benefits of the natural landscape in the new location. People were also concerned about the health and safety of the barnyard animals at the center, which ultimately, did not prove to be an issue. Once the center was established, people came around on the idea and saw the many benefits it provided for the younger generations.
So, in 1982, they officially moved and opened the center to the much more appropriate location in Zilker Park.
When it was first opened at the Deep Eddy location, the center had few exhibits that included snakes and minerals; however, the Zilker Park location allowed for more exhibits and activities. Now it has expanded to many different experiences and provides education on the endangered Barton Springs salamander along with the importance of the aquifer.
The exhibits include birds of prey, fossils, small mammals, snakes, and discovery of the natural environment through guided hikes and outdoor education. Through outdoor exploration, the center also provides education on the geology of the area. Wilderness areas and wildlife are abundant around the location, which also adds to the overall experience of the Center. The flowing water and dense foliage surrounding the Center provide an ideal environment where wildlife can thrive while people can learn and observe.
The Austin Nature and Science Center has expanded and improved that accommodates for the changing times through the addition of new exhibits and learning experiences, such as, the nano science and STEM exhibit, the Dino-pit, and many others. The outdoor education programs are important now more than ever due to the degradation of the natural environment, so this is directly reflected in the importance of the center as a whole. They provide new programs and experiences that continue to educate the public and future generations
Ann Philpott to City Council, Austin, Texas, October 18 1973, Friends of Zilker, Austin History Center.
Homepage. Austin Nature & Science Center. June 28, 2017. http://www.austintexas.gov/department/austin-nature-and-science-center.
"Zilker 'Zoo' Substitute Proposed: Science Center Expansion Favored." The Austin Statesman (1921-1973), Oct 17 1973, p. 87. ProQuest.
"Pros, Cons Presented on Animal Center: Science Center Proposes Park." The Austin Statesman (1921-1973), Dec 17 1972, p. 1. ProQuest.
Austin Parks and Recreation. "Austin Nature and Science Center - 50th Anniversary." YouTube, 18 May 2016, https://youtu.be/fdhBWi-15EY?list=PLelTMMBW0YOR0Y9KesP3muF-ZdEo5iTFZ.
Photo: Austin Nature & Science Center