The 15-year-old exhibits at Bear Creek Nature Center are getting a face lift.

El Paso County plans to spend $250,000 to renovate exhibits and add new displays this year, said Todd Marts, Recreation and Cultural Services division manager.

Friends of El Paso County Nature Centers donated $100,000 to pay for the improvements, along with another $150,000 coming from the county. In 2014, voters approved a ballot question that would allow the county to spend more than $2 million in excess revenue from the previous year on improvements to trails, parks and nature centers.

The center, part of Bear Creek Regional Park, sees about 140,000 visitors each year, including more than 6,000 local school children on field trips.

"With tens of thousands of visitors every year, they have an impact on the exhibits," said Marts. "The exhibits that we have right now are wonderful, but they're showing their age."

The county plans to hire a design firm to model new additions and revamp existing showcases. Ideas for new exhibits include one about living with wildlife and another focusing on Colorado's state fish, the rare greenback cutthroat trout, Marts said. The showcases will have a "hands-on" focus.

"What we want are exhibits that are interactive," he said. "So instead of just coming up and reading the panel, we want (visitors) to somehow be engaged in the items."

Other crowd favorites, such as a creekside diorama featuring a bear and its cub, will be refurbished.

The center's beloved observational beehive will also stay put, he added.

The exhibits date back to 2002, when the nature center was rebuilt after the original building was destroyed two years earlier in an arson fire. The center celebrated its 40th birthday last year. When the center opened in 1976 as an environmental education facility, it was "the first county-supported facility of its kind," according to the friends group.

Marts said Colorado Springs is home to three other nature centers: the Starsmore Discovery Center, the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, and the county's Fountain Creek Nature Center.

In 2014, the county completed a more than $600,000 expansion at Fountain Creek Nature Center. The project tripled exhibit space and added a classroom for environmental education programs and other activities. A grant from Great Outdoors Colorado helped pay for the improvements, Marts said.

County Government Reporter