During the COVID-19 pandemic, when travel was at a standstill and visitors were scarce, the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center was hard at work making changes to the main exhibit room. It was time to rearrange and upgrade the more than 20 year old exhibits.
Now, with touch screen kiosks, informative panels and a historical display, the exhibit room has new life and is ready for visitors to return.
Entering the center, to the left there is now a panoramic mural of a photograph taken at daybreak at the overlook at High Rocks. It acts as a great backdrop for a family photo or selfie, and is also an introduction to the Cranberry Wilderness.
On the wall is a touch screen with information about places of interest in the wilderness.
“We started with some basic stuff,” Nature Center Director Diana Stull said. “We’re going to add more [to the touch screen] later. There’s a QR code that takes you to websites and in some cases, there are more sites that you can get to, such as the Pocahontas County CVB website.”
As its name implies, the center is focused on nature, but Stull said it was important to include tourism and historical information, as well.
To the back of the exhibit room is a new multi-paneled display about wildflowers that are found in the Cranberry Wilderness. The panels are double sided and are changed throughout the year to display spring, early summer, late summer, autumn and winter specific flowers.
The panels also have a touch screen, which offers more details about individual flowers and the families they belong to – whether they are violets, orchids or other wildflowers common to the area.
Moving to the back right corner, the former Cranberry Glades mural has been replaced with a faux building facade reminiscent of those found at the Mill Point Federal Prison. Under the roof is an informational panel, touch screen and glassed-in display case of items which would have been commonly used at the camp.
“There’s a roof that looks similar to the old style of roofing,” Stull said. “A lot of detail went into this display.”
A lot of research went into creating the prison camp section of the exhibit room and with the help of Terry Hackney – who designed all the informational panels – the center has old photos, maps and stories of the camp for visitors to explore.
“He did a lot of research that went into the content that we have here,” Stull said. “He dug around and found quotes and pictures to use to give you an idea of what the place was about.”
Many of the items in the display were from Hackney’s personal collection, as well as the Nature Center’s.
“A lot of these are Terry’s personal items that would have been used at that time, but some of the items were in a box of things that we had used here in an old display,” Stull said. “There used to be an old display about logging camps, so this is very similar stuff that they would have used.”
Next to the prison camp display is the snake enclosure. Although the snakes are not new to the exhibit room, they have gotten an upgraded vivarium with its very own mural and climate controlled technology.
“Terry went with Roy Moose to the area where he gathers those snakes and it is called the Birthing Rock,” Stull said. “That’s where the mural photo was taken. This whole thing is technologically advanced. There’s a controller on the other side of the wall and it brings the lights up slowly in the morning and then puts them back down at night.”
It took the snakes some time to adjust to their new enclosure, but they settled in nicely. Rattlesnakes, black snakes and copperheads call it home, while the center’s other snakes have their own glass cases, including black snakes, a horn nose and garter snakes.
The other exhibits in the room received a nice upgrade as well, in particular the stuffed animals that are on display in the center of the room.
“We had a little beauty shop going on in here,” Stull said, laughing. “We cleaned all the animals. I’ve got a really cool picture of Rosanna Springston using a blow dryer on one of the animals and brushing its fur. She helped me clean all of them.
“I thought they turned out well because some of these have been here awhile,” she added. “That beaver, I know, has been here the entire time the center has been open. A lot of them have.”
Along with the interior upgrades, there are also a few new signs outside of the center, including panels about the candy darter fish and hummingbirds near the pollinator garden and hummingbird feeders on the porch of the center.
Cranberry Mountain Nature Center is open Thursday through Mondays, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. mid-April to mid-October.
This Sunday, the center will host the Cranberry Shindig – a celebration that includes crafters, music, dancing and good food.