Renovated Stone House Nature Center Invites All In To Learn And Explore

By Lisa McNamara

Nestled along the tree-lined streets of Short Hills lies a natural gem, the Cora Hartshorn Arboretum and Bird Sanctuary. In April, a new exhibit was unveiled in the recently renovated Stone House Nature Center, which offers a museum-quality exhibit experience with more interactive learning opportunities and discovery stations.
“We’re excited about the new exhibit; we’re able to utilize it in our teaching especially for our summer camp,” boasted Nicole Esposito, environmental educator at CHA.
Esposito is also excited about their new residents. A corn snake, eastern king snake and rat snake have joined the turtles, fish and rabbits at the Stone Center. The exhibit is also home to a hive of honeybees; the beehive provides visitors with a rare opportunity to see bees up close and to hear their amazing hum as they work. Colorful canopies hang from the ceiling in the exhibit and are backlit for evening events to spotlight the animals, birds and bugs that thrive in trees during the spring, summer and fall in New Jersey. Discovery stations and viewing platforms offer even more learning opportunities.
Nicole Landreman started coming to the Arboretum as a little girl, and now she works there. Last year, when Landreman was a senior at Millburn High School and the president of the high school’s Environmental Club, she was looking for a volunteer opportunity and “wanted to learn more about the animals and plants in my local ecosystem,” and The Citizen Science program at CHA was the “hands-on” answer.
Landreman speaks highly of her volunteer experience and of the new exhibit; the snakes are one of her favorite features because “snakes are the easiest to handle, and they crawl up your arm!” she says. She enjoys the animals and people too. A recent visitor told her he has been coming for 30 years, and that day, he brought along his one-year-old.
Summer is the perfect time to check out CHA, an ideal setting for summer camp and wonderful opportunity to get kids to unplug and enjoy nature.
Esposito was pleased to announce, “We are debuting new curriculum this summer for all age groups which incorporates hands-on learning.”
Nature Discovery Camp at CHA has programs for children ages 3-5, first-third grade and fourth-sixth grade, and each week features a different theme. Esposito said, “We want kids getting outside, asking questions. No matter what, we go out every day.”
According to Landreman, the survival and weather camps are very popular, and kids love the camouflage game too. She added, “The kids who come, always come back.”
Citizen Science is an engaging volunteer opportunity that teaches someone without a full science background how to make observations and collect data. Its two-fold approach works on both a local and national level. On a local level, volunteers study salamanders, butterflies and pollinator diversity. Projects are available on a national level as well; whereby, volunteers can participate in frog watches, monitor trees or determine water quality.
Esposito noted, “We’re fortunate; many teenagers participate, but you don’t have to be a teenager. We have community involvement on all levels.”
Another great way to spend time at CHA is by exploring the woodlands. Visitors can go on a birding adventure and track birds they see and hear using a checklist. While walking the nature trails, they can also admire the native wildflowers, trees and animals. At the Adventure Station in the Stone House, colorful, laminated adventure cards are available to guide a walk on the trails.
Landreman’s personal favorite of the woodlands is the Devil’s Punchbowl, a glacier-formed crater that fills up with water and frogs.
As stated on the CHA website: Cora developed the area as a place where wild things could grow without harm and where people could come to enjoy them. Esposito reiterated, “Our Arboretum was never intended as a private residence; it was always meant to be a park with public access. A place for a community to gather.” Fortunately, it still is.
Come back and see what’s new, or visit for the first time and find out what all the buzz is about.
The Cora Hartshorn Arboretum and Bird Sanctuary is located in Short Hills.
For more information, call 973-376-3587 or visit www.hartshornarboretum.org.

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