By Chuck Walker
MOBILE, Ala. – Two years ago, George McBroom, Natural Resource Specialist at Carter’s Lake, had a vision to revamp and refurbish the visitor’s center at the lake and turn it into a Nature Center.
It all began with the building and creation of an interactive sand table; this birthed the idea of creating an interactive learning center.
With some hard work in house combined with a valuable partnership with Kennesaw State University, Carter’s Lake opened its new Nature Center in a ceremony April 28, 2023, at the lake.
From the sand table, to a virtual reality station, an interactive microscope kiosk, to a video game kids can play, holograms, along with exhibits of animals and birds, the Nature Center is not only state-of-the-art, but it will also be a favorite locale for future visitors of the lake.
“The Nature Center’s purpose is to provide a gateway,” McBroom said. “A place to spark the idea of learning and then encouraging individuals to go outside and learn about the natural world around them.”
The idea to partner with KSU was the desire for custom interactive educational games that could be used in the nature center. The hope was KSU students in the College of Computer and Software Engineering would use their talents to come up with some games. The idea and the partnership just grew from there.
“Dr. Dawn Taylor immediately took to the concept that I had in mind and we began to work together to make it work,” McBroom said. “This was passed along to Dr. Joi Li, who is the professor of the computer game design class. Her support and assistance with getting our VR projects worked out with the students has been fantastic. We found a formula that worked to allow the students produce quality work and to provide us with a quality product.
The next step in the process with KSU was the Handshake Partnership, which Carters Lake won in 2020, receiving $25,000 to use towards new partnership goals. These funds were used to purchase new technology for the interactive program and three completed educational gaming programs that are used on various displays throughout the center.
After a brief ceremony, students from a local day care center along with visitors and friends of the Lake toured the new facility and got a hands-on demonstration of all the new exhibits, kiosks and all the technology.
McBroom said he hopes the Nature Center not only brings more visitors to Carters Lake and enhances their appreciation, it also hopes it stands as an example to other parks in USACE to what they can do to make their parks better for their visitors.
“We want the Carters Lake Nature center to be a source of inspiration to other projects,” McBroom said. “A place where everything was done in house to show exactly what can be done using your minds and hard work. We wanted to show that it can be done affordably and provide a significant boost to the quality of the visitor experience.”