Former driving range building becoming new nature center in Hamilton’s Joyce Park

Troy and Kathy Schwable, joined by many volunteers, have spent well over a year converting what was the abandoned Joe Nuxhall driving range building in Joyce Park.

As soon as December, they hope to open the new Hamilton Ecological Education and Nature Center.

What was a deteriorating, shabby and unheated building now is one with energy-efficient heating and cooling, up-to-date Internet capabilities and a comfortable place for meetings and classes on such topics as nature and updated soil-and-water conservation techniques.

“We hope to do programming for kids,” Troy Schwable said. “Kathy has stuff set aside in some three-ring binders that she’s been looking up and seeing how much it would cost to buy some of the programming materials to provide those (classes).”

Also, “We really want to get, now that we’re getting closer to having an actual functioning building, with the school district, and we want to figure out what we can do to fit into the science-program curricula for all the different ages, and let them come here, and take them on walks” to the nearby Riverside Natural Area, which remains an unknown to many people living in the area, he said.

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One thing that sticks in his head is that a while back, some Boy Scouts were up from Cincinnati for a scouting function, and they saw deer, Schwable said. One boy said, “Look at the skinny cows!”

There’s a lot of need for ecological education, and not only for children and teens.

They plan to offer quarterly education programs with the Butler County Soil & Water Conservation District about such topics as how to grow good plants and prevent the kinds you don’t want.

Brady Smith, a rural specialist with the soil and water district, thinks the center will be a valuable place.

“The programming that we’re working on right now with them, it’s called, ‘The Pollinator Series,’ to get homeowners interested in pollinator plants, native plants, that they can use in and around their yards and their landscaping, rather than some of the different varieties sold in the garden centers that aren’t favorable toward native pollinator species,” Smith said.

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They were recently pleased to learn they won a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, like the one Hamilton Urban Garden Systems (HUGS) did, to install a 30-by-70-foot “hoop house” greenhouse next to the newly rehabbed building. It will be used for education, and also to nurture native plants and trees to maturity levels so they survive devouring by deer and rabbit.

Troy Schwable said efforts to create the nature center were helped by many. They included John Cook, the park maintenance superintendent of the Hamilton Parks Conservancy, who laid all the building’s tile floors.

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Artist Jennifer Acus-Smith and her painting crew decorated the front of the building with a mural featuring plants and the creatures that pollinate them.

Joyce Park and the adjacent Riverside Natural Area contain a treasure of wildlife and plants. They include beaver, bald eagles and other birds of prey, and many kinds of bees. After the devastation that happened to eagles from pesticides, “I never, ever thought that was a possibility,” to see bald eagles anywhere in this part of the country, Schwable said.

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