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Nature Center at Shawnee State Park

While visiting Shawnee State Park, we decided to stop off at the park’s nature center, and we’re glad that we did. It turns out that this is the only nature center operated by our state government where the public can touch or hold the local wildlife. The wildlife that was present during our visit consisted of various reptiles and amphibians. In the topmost photo, the park’s naturalist lifted an Eastern ratsnake from the terrarium and held it so that visitors could touch it’s skin. If a guest was interested, there was also an opportunity to hold the snake yourself. I decided to give it a try. I was told not to grasp the snake too firmly, or I might alarm it. Nor did I want to hold it so loosely that it fell to the floor.

Naturalist showing off an Eastern ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)


Me and my new, eastern ratsnake friend.

Feeling comfortable with the whole snake-holding thing, I decided to try holding a Rough green snake, too.

Rough green snake

While we were visiting we met an intern who was studying Wildlife Resource Management at Hocking College. This was his first day in his internship, and he was very helpful. In the photo below he’s showing off our state’s only native, spiny lizard. He told us that this one is a juvenile.

Eastern fence lizard.

While we were vacationing in southern Ohio, Bob and I saw a number of Eastern box turtles which was a treat for us. When hiking in central Ohio, we’ve never come across one. While talking about this with the intern, he passed one over to me so I could take a closer look.

Eastern box turtle.

I had the opportunity to hold an American toad, too, but when I considered this I had visions of it leaping out of my hands, so I passed on that one. The staff had made a terrarium for him inside a large kiddie pool. He seemed pretty content, and quickly snatched up a larva that the naturalist put down on a log near him.

American toad.

We also got to meet two Timber rattlesnakes and a Northern copperhead while visiting the nature center. These obviously weren’t removed from their living quarters. It turns out that one of the rattlesnakes was scheduled to be released back into the wild the very next day. Timber rattlesnakes are an endangered species in Ohio, and it is against the law to harm them. One of the jobs of our state’s naturalists is to dispel a lot of the negative stereotypes that people have of these rattlesnakes. In the unlikely event that one has made its home on your personal property, I was told that the parks service would come and relocate the animal to a more suitable habitat if you let them know about it.

Head of Timber rattlesnake viewed through glass.

In addition to housing living animals the nature center had other material to help introduce people to the region’s wildlife. One of these items was a bobcat who had met its end when a vehicle struck it on one of the park’s roads. A taxidermist preserved its remains.

Deceased bobcat preserved via taxidermy.

When we first arrived at the nature center, no one was there and the building was locked up. But before we left the area, the naturalist and intern returned to the nature center with a large group following. They had been leading an educational nature walk for families with young children. Even though we had stopped by just after Labor Day, when I read description at the park’s official website it said that the Nature Center was only open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. After Labor Day the web site said that the Nature Center’s animals were moved into the Park Office building, so if you are there off-season and the Nature Center is closed, you might want to try visiting the Park Office.

The park’s Nature Center is a small, A-framed building.

Nature Center at Shawnee State Park
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8 thoughts on “Nature Center at Shawnee State Park

  1. We are heading down to Shawnee State park tomorrow for our third visit, and somehow in the past, we never discovered the nature center. Thank you for highlighting it.

    1. Thanks! It was an indoor shot, but I thought it came out looking fairly natural (except the blue by the toad’s foot is actually part of the floor of the kiddie pool that makes up this big terrarium).

  2. The nature center has a lovely shape. I don’t think i can touch reptiles and amphibians. So i do admire people who have guts to do so. On a second thought, i think i can touch turtles

    1. Marviiilous, I felt bad about the bobcat, too. What a beautiful animal! I know these live in Ohio, but I’ve never seen one in the wild. They are nocturnal and very shy of people.

      I think holding a snake seems a bit more intimidating than it is. I started out by touching a snake that was being held by the staff, and it wasn’t at all disagreeable, so I decided to give it a try. I was more afraid that I’d drop the poor little creature than anything else.

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