Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center expands
Bellevue's Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center, which hosts nature workshops, kids' hikes and bug classes, will unveil its $11 million expansion Oct. 11.
Seattle Times staff reporter
If you go
Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center will host grand opening festivities 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday to unveil its expansion.
A speaker series will run throughout the day, including talks on:
• History of Mercer Slough.
• Green architecture at the new center.
• Salmon at the Mercer Slough.
• Scope and importance of local watersheds.
Workshops throughout the day will focus on animal tracks, birds, wetlands, owl pellets and more.
Other activities include water-creature exploration in the ponds, toddler hikes and facility tours with park rangers.
The center is at 1625 118th Ave. S.E., Bellevue. Note: There will be limited parking at the center Saturday. Free shuttle service will be provided from nearby Newport High School, 4333 Factoria Blvd. S.E., starting at 9:30 a.m.
BELLEVUE — The Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center looks like a little boy's playground paradise.
Where else are you encouraged to prance around in the woods, frolic in the mud and collect bugs — as well as get dirt underneath your fingernails?
The center, with its nature workshops, kids' hikes and bug classes, will unveil Saturday its $11 million expansion at the 320-acre Mercer Slough Nature Park near downtown Bellevue.
The expansion features a treehouse that will take elementary school-age students to eye level with the tree canopies and provide a bird's-eye view of cedar waxwings, pileated woodpeckers and flickers.
The nature center also features a new two-classroom building and lab that can project on a large screen images of beetles and other critters that children collect.
Other additions include a visitor center, community center and public restrooms.
"In the past, we had to make do," said Apryl Brinkley, the center's manager. "Now we have the right lighting in class. We can have microscopes. We have windows from floor to ceiling. So even though you're in your classrooms, you feel like you are surrounded by nature."
Started in 1993, the center has become a playground of sort for tens of thousands of children from around the region.
Annually, 8,000 students and parents visit the nature center. With its expansion, the center expects to serve up to 20,000 annually and start offering programs to preschoolers, Brinkley said.
This is a joint project between Seattle's Pacific Science Center, which runs the nature center, and the city of Bellevue, which owns the land.
Located two miles south of downtown, the center is elevated on pilings over wetlands. Douglas firs, cedars and maple trees surround it, as well as a bog, pond and meadows. Beavers, muskrats, blue herons and 170 other species roam what is billed as the Northwest's largest urban wetland park.
"It's this amazing space where you can get away from the city without leaving the city," said Brinkley.
The expansion, the first phase, was paid for with federal, state, county and city grants and with donations from Boeing, Microsoft, Puget Sound Energy and several other businesses and individuals, Bellevue administrators said.
The city hopes to add more classrooms and another lab, though no funding has been found and no deadline has been set for the second phase of expansion. Early projections are the second phase would cost $3 million.
While summer camp and scout badge-related hikes are offered here, the center focuses more on local schools, offering field trips and internships.
Staffers lead kids on hikes around the slough to study native plants and birds. Children collect soil and water samples around the creek to take back to the lab to study under microscopes.
A mainstay is the popular "B'earthdays," where children get outside, play games and get muddy and dirty on hikes. It's an alternative to those Chuck E. Cheese's birthday parties, Brinkley said proudly.
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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