The Nature Center has a wonderfully quirky, small-scale, humane feel. The Nature Center contains about ten animals. One is a large owl, called only "Mr. Owl", because it's not a pet. An informational sign explains how the Nature Center came to house Mr. Owl:
Our Barred Owl was found in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on May 15, 2006 with a broken right wing. We do not know what caused the injury. It was taken to a veterinarian and then to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, who cared for the bird while its wing healed. Because the wing break has healed in such a way that it cannot fly, the owl no longer has the ability to survive in the wild. The nature center has made the commitment to care for the owl.Among its animals is also a South African lizard. A sign titled "Why do you have a South African lizard on exhibit?" explains:
This animal used to be someone's pet . Either the owners decided they didn't want the lizard any longer and released it outside, or the lizard escaped from its enclosure and got outside on its own. In September of 1989 we received a phone call from a neighbor reporting a "very large lizard" in their backyard. The case of transporting wild animals picked-up as "pets" and the availability of exotic animals through the pet trade makes reports of this kind much more common than most people expect. Usually we only exhibit animals native to Virginia. However, the Plated Lizard [the South African lizard] in this tank is helping us to teach a valuable lesson.The Nature Center might also help you get over a fear or hatred of snakes. It displays various Arlington-native snakes, some of which helpfully reduce rodent populations. The only poisonous snake that lives in Arlington, the copperhead rattlesnake, lives only in a small area of Arlington. The Nature Center displays allows you to find out what it looks like.
When non-native animals get loose in the wild the result is almost always bad. ... Never transport wild animals out of their native habitat. Never release non-native animals into the wild. Always get permission before releasing any plant or animal in the park.
My favorite exhibit in the Nature Center is the dugout canoe. An informational sign describes what makes the dugout canoe universally great:
The canoe on display was made by nature center staff using modern tools. At the very end of the process the traditional burning and scraping methods were used. When the canoe was finished, it was taken to the Potomac River for a test sail. It sank! Despite all of our modern advantages, we were unsuccessful in making a canoe that would float.Failure is part of life. It's not necessarily a cause for shame or embarrassment. If the Nature Center teaches just this to children and adults, it's as valuable as any school in Arlington.
For information on how to help to save the Gulf Branch Nature Center, see savegulfbranch.com