April 22, 2016

Squam Lakes Natural Science Center Celebrates 50 Years

An early conceptual drawing for Squam Lakes Natural Science Center.
2016 is a big year for Squam Lakes Natural Science Center! It marks the fiftieth anniversary of the organization that is a favorite of many. From humble beginnings, it grew into the state’s premier natural science center and now provides outstanding nature-related experiences for more than 85,000 people each year. A milestone such as this is thanks to the vision, energy, and generosity of many people over the years.

The idea for the Science Center began in 1965 with a meeting of Holderness residents who were united by an appreciation of the area’s beauty and a desire to preserve it. These founders thought a science center would attract visitors while also protecting the area’s natural assets. By the following year, 180 acres of property and several buildings were purchased and the Science Center was incorporated as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization called Squam Lakes Science Center. In 1969, the Science Center opened its doors to the public for the first summer season, offering lectures in the Red Barn next to the Holderness Inn (on Route 3). The original attractions included two trails on Mount Fayal and several live animal exhibits with admission at $1.25 for adults and $0.75 for juniors.
Forester Larry Rathbun, Founder Frank Webster, Executive Director Gilbert “Gib” Merrill,
and Trustee John Anderson (left to right) pose by a sign recognizing the Webster family’s commitment to
environmental education. The sign now greets visitors near the Welcome Center main entrance.
During the 1970s the Science Center mission narrowed its focus to specialize in natural science education and more fully utilize the fields, forests, streams, and ponds on the property as a unique outdoor classroom. While offering many educational programs for schools on site, naturalists also began taking natural science education and wild animal ambassadors to schools across the state.

The 1980s saw collaborations with other partners such as New Hampshire Public Television which helped broaden the reach of the Science Center. The facilities of the Science Center also saw change, most visibly moving the Webster Education building across campus to be closer to teaching areas and renovating the building to add additional classroom space. Early on, volunteers were an important resource. Many people donated time and services to help support the Science Center. The volunteer program continues to be a strength today, with 396 volunteers donating over 9,500 hours of service in 2015.

Bill Webb, Executive Director from 1989 to 1992 recently said, “That’s the magic of the Science Center. Every generation is fascinated by the experiences found here, experiences that in many ways only get better as we get older. The challenge for the Science Center is finding new and innovative ways to keep future generations connected to the natural world around them.”

In the 1990s the Science Center began offering naturalist-led cruises on Squam Lake that remain popular today. The cruises changed and grew over the years and now include daily offerings from May through October focusing on the natural history, ecology, and wildlife of Squam Lake. In 1995, ground was broken for Kirkwood Gardens on property adjacent to the Holderness Inn on Route 3, featuring plants attractive to birds and butterflies. The current mission of the Science Center – to advance understanding of ecology by exploring New Hampshire’s natural world – was adopted on January 1, 2000 and still is the mission today.
The Science Center's first Executive Director,
Gib Merrill, showing a fox kit to visitors. 

Squam Lakes Natural Science Center gained accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in 2006 and 2011 (each term is five years). The accreditation process evaluates every facet of a zoo or aquarium making sure that an institution meets the highest standards for animal management and care, including living environments, social groupings, health, nutrition, and enrichment. The process also evaluates the veterinary program, involvement in conservation and research, education programs, safety policies and procedures, security, physical facilities, guest services, and the quality of staff. Successful accreditation means an institution is among the best in the world. The Science Center continues to be the only institution in northern New England currently accredited by the AZA.

Another special addition occurred in 2010 with the opening of Blue Heron School. The school is the first nature-based Montessori early learning center in New Hampshire designed for children ages 3 to 6.

Throughout the years the Science Center has seen name changes – Squam Lakes Science Center (1966), Science Center of New Hampshire (1983), and Squam Lakes Natural Science Center (2000) – but the overall goals of educating the public and conserving the land have remained constant. Squam Lakes Natural Science Center today is firmly established, supported by its community, with a proven track record of educational excellence and offering a rich diversity of adventures.

Learn more about activities related to the anniversary celebration at www.nhnature.org.

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