I have been writing this nature column for over fourteen years. Oddly, I have never featured Norwell’s South Shore Natural Science Center (SSNSC) in this space. What a tremendous oversight!

Do you know about the Science Center? It may qualify as one of the South Shore’s best-kept secrets. Founded in 1962, SSNSC has been active in environmental education for almost 50 years, working with area schools “to cultivate an awareness, appreciation and concern for” the natural world. They offer hands-on, interactive programs for preschoolers through Grade 12 — in schools, at the Science Center, and at the beach and local nature preserves. They also offer programs for adults and families, throughout the year.

Originally knows as the South Shore Nature Center, the SSNSC got its start when a group of local naturalists and college professors, led by the renowned Norwell native, William G. (Cap’n Bill) Vinal, began running nature education programs out of a building in the town center. An old school bus named Flora brought children on field trips. In 1968, the group acquired land on Jacobs Lane in Norwell. The first Nature Center building, constructed in part by students from the South Shore Vocational-Technical High School, was dedicated in 1974. By then the Science Center was offering educational programs year-round.

Today the Science Center is comprised of a nature center on 30 acres, with six interpretive nature trails, and access to an additional 200 acres of conservation land. Outdoors there is also a summer house, an amphitheater, and a picnic area. Indoors includes a gallery, a greenhouse, a gift shop, classrooms and restrooms, and most notably, The EcoZone and other interactive exhibits.

Created with the help of South Shore native Jeff Corwin (of TV’s Animal Planet), and established in 2002, the EcoZone, is a multidimensional, interactive exhibit area that focuses on the ecosystems of southeastern Massachusetts, with special emphasis on wetlands habitat. Visitors can crawl through a hollow log and view a live pond – complete with frogs, fish and turtles — from the bottom up; open tiny doors that reveal what plants and creatures inhabit a meadow; cross a wooden bridge; and learn first-hand about quaking bogs, vernal pools, nocturnal animals, and local reptiles and amphibians (snake-phobes, beware!).

Judging from my three-year-old son’s enthusiasm for the EcoZone, I’d say that it definitely helps to fulfill the SSNSC’s mission “to provide natural science experiences that educate, excite, and commit every generation to preserve the environment and to encourage responsible use, stewardship and enjoyment of our natural resource.”

The Science Center is also home to Bob the Iguana, a barred owl named Hedwig, an annual infusions of tiny red-bellied cooter turtles. Weekly programs such as Feed the Animals provide guests an opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with some of these creatures.

There’s always something going on at the Science Center. Vine Hall, the main gathering area, boasts a gallery of works by local artists that changes each month. The Nature Center Preschool runs throughout the school year – plus the Nature Adventures Summer Day Camp from June through August. Annual events such as Corn Festival, Maple Day, Perseid Showers Family Campout, Through the Garden Gate Garden Tour, the Water Watch Lecture Series (co-sponsored by Mass Audubon and NSRWA) and others provide entertainment and education for all ages. Visit www.ssnsc.org for a listing of current classes, programs, and events.

If you prefer a more solitary experience, be sure to check out the Science Center’s woodland trails. Most are easy hikes – perfect for families. Of particular note is the Tupelo Trail, a sensory trail developed for the blind and print handicapped, and the Sylvester Trail, which passes over a vernal pool. The trails are open every day, dawn to dusk (pets and smoking prohibited). Access is free of charge; you can pick up a map at the front desk. (Braille, large-print, and audio guides also available).

The South Shore Natural Science Center is located at 48 Jacobs Lane, off Route 123 in Norwell. Summer Hours (July and August) are Monday – Friday, 9:30 am – 4:30pm, and Saturday 9:30am – 1:00pm. Admission fees for indoor exhibits are $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for children (ages 2-15) & senior citizens (free for members). Admission to Vine Hall Art Gallery, the Nature Gift Store and the trails is always free for everyone.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, Correspondent
June, 2009

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 13 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com.