Free with park admission
In 2007, the Earth Discovery Center was born. But not without the help of the Eagle Creek Park Foundation. In an effort to enhance environmental education for all ages with an emphasis on youth, we raised $3.4 million to construct a world-class nature center, which you can find nestled in the forest canopy right by the reservoir.
The old original nature center, now known as the Ornithology Center, attracted around 40,000 guests per year, and only had the capacity to hold one classroom of students. Now, the larger building caters to over 80,000 annual visitors – 6,000 who are students on field trips learning more about the natural world.
As soon as you walk in, it’s very likely you’ll be greeted by some sort of creature! That might be a snail, or during the summertime, you can even catch the morphing of a caterpillar into a monarch butterfly right at the front desk. Inside the center you’ll find a beehive, exhibits of the American toad and grey tree frog, leaf collections and plant displays, nature-based artwork for sale, and much more. When you venture outside, you can take in a beautiful view of the reservoir out on the deck, or hop on the nearby hiking trails.
Throughout the year, naturalists host around 130 nature-based programs, which are open to the public. These interactive classes are designed for all ages and include activities like owl-gazing, nature hikes or building of habitats, to name a few.
Watch as the park’s educational reptiles, amphibians and other critters enjoy their lunch! You’ll learn some natural history about each animal along the way. On the menu: worms, defrosted mice, salad, crickets, and frozen bloodworms.
Nature Discovery Class
Stop by on the weekend for a fun activity at the Earth Discovery Center! Topic vary – possible activities include nature hikes, insects, pond life, simple crafts and more! Free with park admission
Plan your field trip, or schedule an outreach program!View programs offered
In 2014, the Eagle Creek Park Foundation contributed $30,000 to supplement a 3Mgives Eco Grant for construction of a geothermal pond behind the Earth Discovery Center. This allows for large school groups to immerse in an elaborate pond study program to dip-net for frogs and aquatic insects, which adds to their studies in the wet lab.
The wet lab is set up much like a high school science lab complete with microscopes for water analysis and chemical testing. The dry lab can host just about any program and is more like a traditional school classroom. Altogether, the Earth Discovery Center can host three classrooms simultaneously between the labs and exhibit hall.
This is where you’ll find live exhibits featuring a variety of native amphibians, reptiles, and fish that call Eagle Creek Park their home. You’ll find salamanders and mudpuppies along with fish like the largemouth bass, bluegill, and catfish. More during the wintertime, you can view box and musk turtles, and red-eared sliders in addition to black rat, garter, and water snakes.
This space is also utilized for our three of our art shows, and even then, the live animals remain on display for visitors.
Meet the Naturalists
Leah grew up in North Carolina where she attended North Carolina State University, and graduated with a degree in natural resources-ecosystem assessment. After graduating, she was hired as an outdoor environmental educator with the Flat Rock River YMCA in St. Paul, Indiana. She learned to teach children to love nature while exploring the outdoors, and has been doing so ever since.
She enjoys a wide range of outdoor activities including hiking, identifying insects, and nature photography. As her boss describes, “Leah is awesome and likes to pin dead insects when she isn’t teaching archery or writing environmental education curricula.”
Earth Discovery Center Manager
Dawn is an Indianapolis native who started working at Eagle Creek Park as a seasonal naturalist back in 1994. She attended Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts where she majored in biology and minored in studio art. She then moved on to complete graduate work in wildlife science with Purdue University’s Department of Forestry before coming back to work full-time at Eagle Creek Park.
Her favorite things about the park include the amazing diversity of park visitors, the small, hidden vernal pools teeming with fairy shrimp and baby salamanders in the spring, and the sound of loons (the bird kind) calling on the reservoir. She specializes in amphibians and reptiles, bugs and aquatic invertebrates, growing native plants for butterfly gardening, and loves answering weird questions about Indiana wildlife.
She is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and shares her home with six fish, five orphaned baby opossums, three cats, three orphaned raccoons, three orphaned baby squirrels, one yellow-bellied slider, and one rescued domestic rabbit.
Jake grew up in Columbus, Indiana and graduated from Indiana University’s School of Public & Environmental Affairs in 2004, majoring in environmental management. Since then, he’s conducted stream surveys throughout the state for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and assisted The Nature Conservancy with land stewardship at Kankakee Sands in northwest Indiana, and also at Pine Butte Swamp Preserve in Montana. Additionally, he’s worked as an environmental scientist with URS Corporation.
In 2009, he started as a naturalist with Indy Parks, and loves getting to work in the beautiful setting of Eagle Creek Park. Summer day camps are his favorite part of his job as he gets to spend the days outside going hiking, canoeing, creek stomping, and fishing. He enjoys hitting the trails after work to try and spot wildlife, and see all of the seasonal changes taking place in the forest.
Jennifer relocated to Indianapolis from Columbus, Ohio where she completed a degree in zoology, with minors in natural resources and physical anthropology. Most of her studies and positions have revolved around her love for animals.
She has worked as a topical butterfly keeper at the Franklin Park Conservatory and White River Gardens, along with the avian collection at the Indianapolis Zoo. Through a city-awarded USFWS grant, she was able to work on projects aimed at connecting residents to birding, one of her favorite activities. She also works with the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis as an interpreter in their paleontology and archaeology exhibits.
Jennifer’s hobbies of birding, wildflower identification, gardening, hiking, and kayaking make Eagle Creek Park her favorite place to work and play. She loves caring for animals at the nature center and working on displays about topics within the park. Teaching families and school groups to explore and connect with nature makes being a naturalist the most rewarding job she could imagine.
Key contributors to the
Earth Discovery Center
“We find that a lot of kids are really scared of nature — they come here and think they’re going into the jungle! We want them to take a walk in the park and realize that there is nothing dangerous out there. They might find some of these creatures in their own backyard, but they’re harmless and fun to learn about.”
— Leah Frenzel,
Earth Discovery Center Naturalist
The Earth Discovery Center was built with the following environmentally friendly features:
- Geothermal heating and cooling that utilizes local groundwater
- Photocell outdoor lighting
- Native, wildlife-friendly landscaping
- Carpet made of recycled material
- Eco-friendly bathrooms with motion sensor lighting, faucets, and hand dryers, as well as low-volume toilets
- Revolving front door that helps keep cooled or heated air inside
- Built on the site of the old ranger station (using previously disturbed land means fewer habitats affected and less land cleared)
- Bike racks
- Furniture made of recycled plastic
- Recycling containers for plastic, glass, and paper products
- Bio-swale and swirl tank to clean storm water run-off before returning it to the reservoir
Take I-465 west/southbound and exit at 71st Street (Exit 21). Head west (right) on 71st Street for approximately 1.4 miles. Shortly after the stoplight on Lafayette Road and entrance onto I-65, 71st Street turns into Eagle Creek Parkway and will lead you into Eagle Creek Park at the 71st Street Gatehouse.
Once you have entered the park, simply follow the park’s directional signs to the Earth Discovery Center, or stay on the main road (Eagle Creek Parkway) as it winds south through the park. Go past the turn for the Ornithology Center and continue for approximately one mile. Shortly after passing a playground area to your left, take the next right, which will be Walnut Point Road. Take the next left turn (Delong Road) and go past the Peace Learning Center to the end of the road, and you will see the Earth Discovery Center.
Take I-465 northbound around the west side of the city. Exit on 56th Street (Exit 19) and head west (left) on 56th Street for approximately one mile. After passing the stoplight for Reed Road, you should see the entrance to Eagle Creek Park on the right. If you find yourself on a bridge crossing over Eagle Creek Reservoir, you’ve gone too far!
Once you’ve entered the park, simply follow the park’s directional signs to the Earth Discovery Center, or stay on the main road (Eagle Creek Parkway) as it curves around and winds north through the park. Go past the first left (Eagle Beach Drive) and continue another half mile to take the next left, which will be Walnut Point Road. Take the next left turn (Delong Road) and go past the Peace Learning Center to the end of the road, and you will see the Earth Discovery Center.