A wall of windows as seen from Acid Canyon looking up at the new nature center. Photo by Laura Loy
Work continues on the new nature center. A wall of windows provides a stunning view of the canyons, mesas, mountains and skies that make up the beauty of the Pajarito Plateau. Photo by Laura Loy
Last Friday, I approached the new Los Alamos Nature Center as I climbed out of Acid Canyon on the trail just shy of 10 a.m., when a group would assemble to tour the facility.
Though I was rushing to arrive on time to meet the group, I stopped for a moment to admire the structure perched atop the edge of the canyon. What struck me most was the wall of windows facing out toward the canyon. It looked gorgeous from below and surely, I thought, would provide a stunning view of the canyons, mesas, mountains and skies looking out those windows from inside the center.
Despite the fact that I work for PEEC and receive regular updates on the status of the new nature center, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning as we prepared to enter the building for the tour. I had been inside only once before – about three months prior – and I wondered how much had changed in that time? Along with about 15 others, mostly PEEC staff and board members, I entered through a plastic sheet covering a doorway, and was instantly transported to another place. We all stood quietly for a moment, taking in the scene in awe.
It was a beautiful sight, and I swelled with pride at being a part, no matter how small, of this amazing new resource for our community. Again, I was struck by the wall of windows, and I marveled for a moment at the stunning view with which I was rewarded, just as I had suspected from the canyon below.
The new Children’s Discovery area was taking shape in one corner, and the gift shop shelves were already in place and waiting to be filled with all sorts of wonderful treasures. The classroom was bright and cheery and ready to welcome learners of all ages, and the stacked stone entryway invitingly encouraged visitors to come in and explore the wonders of the Pajarito Plateau from within the center’s walls. Perhaps the most exciting part of all, though, was stepping into the planetarium. That’s when it struck me that this new nature center is going to be a unique and lasting resource for Los Alamos and all of northern New Mexico.
For those who don’t know, the new nature center is a public-private partnership between Los Alamos County and the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC). The County is responsible for construction of the $4.3 million building, which will be operated by PEEC. In addition to running the center, PEEC is also responsible for planning and funding the professional exhibits, to the tune of roughly $1.2 million. I’m excited to say that PEEC has reached nearly 95 percent of this goal, thanks to the many generous donations made by residents and businesses in and around Los Alamos so far.
After the tour, we all went our separate ways, but it wasn’t long before an excited stream of emails and pictures started back and forth between the tour participants. We were reminded of the hard work of many dedicated volunteers to bring this project to fruition: starting back in 1999 when a group of citizens sat around a dining table to talk about the need for a nature center in Los Alamos, to the day in 2005 when PEEC opened at its first and current location in a school building on Orange Street, to 2010 when talks first began with the County about finding a home for the Los Alamos Nature Center.
Finally, on last week’s tour, I could imagine the doors opening and our residents and visitors enjoying this new gem in our community. I could picture my daughter hopping along the brick pathway to find the one engraved with her name, and I could envision a long and fruitful future for the center.
I’m excited to see all of that become a reality on Earth Day next April 22, when the doors to the center will officially open, and on the following Saturday, when PEEC’s 15th annual Earth Day festival will be held at the new center for the first time.
I would encourage anyone wanting to learn more about the new nature center to visit www.PajaritoEEC.org/TakeWing or swing by 2600 Canyon Road to have a gander at the construction through the fence. Or for the off-road types, take a walk down the trail behind the Aquatic Center, where you too will glimpse the wall of windows towering above the canyon. I hope that you will be able to imagine the majestic view from those windows, as I did.
A view from inside the planetarium, which will double as a lecture hall and event space. Photo by Chick Keller
A grove of ponderosa pines sits outside the entrance to the new nature center. A brick pathway with engraved names and messages of donors will adorn the outside of the center. Photo by Laura Loy
A makeshift sign marks the address of the future Los Alamos Nature Center. Photo by Laura Loy