ROSWELL, Ga. Do you want to trade a snakeskin for a starfish?
The Nature Exchange, where people can trade in items collected outdoors, is merely one part of Chattahoochee Nature Center's newest addition - its Discovery Center which will officially open today.
The Discovery Center and new outdoor pavilion was a $9.7 million project that was privately funded. Media, private donors and other guests were invited to a sneak peak of the Discovery Center and a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday.
Ann Bergstrom, executive director of Chattahoochee Nature Center, said the Discovery Center would benefit generations to come.
"After 33 years of operation, we are very excited to finally have a Discovery Center that is a tangible manifestation of our mission. In the future, visitors will have a much-enhanced learning experience when they visit the Discovery Center and learn about our local watershed and the role each of them can play in individual stewardship."
The Discovery Center has four areas that explain the web of life that makes up the unique watershed of the Chattahoochee River, said Lynn McIntyre, director of community relations at Chattahoochee Nature Center.
Kids who start downstairs will learn about the three watershed habitats river, wetland and forest in the Explore Your Watershed Gallery.
Interactive displays include how water quality affects the way fish breathe, what type of wildlife lives in the Chattahoochee River and how water finds its way into people's lives, from rain to the faucet, said DeAnn Fordham, development and special events director.
"The exhibits are designed to make people aware of how the science of nature works so they can make informed decisions," she said. "We only have a finite amount of water. The exhibits teach us to rethink how we can grow while protecting and preserving natural resources."
The gallery also has tree megger owls, rat and pine mole snakes, frogs and fish, among other critters.
"All of the animals in the exhibits have been injured in the wild and are not releasable, so we use them as educational tools" Fordham said.
After filling up on watershed exhibits, visitors can walk over to the Nature Exchange, a trading post to exchange items collected in the environment. Guests can also earn and save points to select a more higher point item in the future.
"It's sort of like a souped up Chucky Cheese," Fordham said. "The Nature Exchange is one of the key programs that we're excited about. It's about getting kids and adults out to discover nature."
The Exchange also has high-powered microscopes for a more detailed view of objects that visitors bring in.
Upstairs, the Chattahoochee River Resource Gallery has exhibits that cover all aspects of the watershed, from outdoor recreation to conservation and restoration efforts. The gallery highlights ways to conserve, rethink, restore and enjoy the watershed, McIntyre said.
Fordham added, "The Resource Gallery focuses on the story of the Chattahoochee River and its watershed and how our daily lives impact the water."
The gallery has interactive kiosks for visitors to pull up information on any of Georgia's state parks and historical sites.
Also upstairs is the green roof terrace, which includes drought tolerant indigenous plants from Arabia Mountain in DeKalb County.
"The roof will control heat and water runoff," said Fordham.
The Discovery Center, which has many environmentally friendly features, will likely be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold certified from the U.S. Green Building Council in the near future, Fordham said.
After exploring the indoors, guests can go to the outdoor pavilion, which overlooks Kingfisher Pond. The pavilion will be used for entertainment and educational events.
The Chattahooche Nature Center is located at 9135 Willeo Road in Roswell, near where Cobb and Fulton counties meet. For more information about the Discovery Center, go to www.chattnaturecenter.org.