Earth Discovery Center
5901 Delong Road
Indianapolis, IN 46254
6515 Delong Road
Indianapolis, IN 46278
Every year, the Eagle Creek Park’s Earth Discovery Center and Ornithology Center offers extraordinary environmental education programming to nearly 10,000 children. The programs, available both indoors and outdoors, are designed to introduce groups of all ages to the amazing diversity of plants and animals native to Indiana and foster a sense of wonder, enthusiasm, and stewardship for the natural world.
“The most important lesson is to teach children that they are a part of nature. Everything that they do in their everyday lives can affect the natural world.”
–Leah Frenzel, Earth Discovery Center Naturalist
Field trips can be tailored to accommodate class size or adult ratios, staff availability, requirements of specific program topics, and group interest. Larger groups can also participate in other park activities on their own (i.e. picnic, hike, teacher-led activities), and rotate through a program at either nature center in smaller groups. Note: hiking distances and times between major facilities in the park (playgrounds, shelters, between the two centers) are not practical for most large groups and will usually require bus transportation.
Most classes at the nature centers take place between 10am–2pm in the spring and fall, and outreach is available outside of the park as well.Download Program Handout
What types of programs do you offer?
Earth Discovery Center
Students will spend 10-15 minutes inside reviewing our five senses, and then we’ll head out on the trail for an easy 30-minute hike and use four of our senses as we explore the natural world. Sniff, look, listen, and touch (except for the poison ivy), but please don’t eat the bugs! Since this program already includes an outdoor hike, we recommend choosing topics other than “Seasonal Hike” if you will be doing more than one topic.
Sensory Adventure Indoor Option
Explore the wonders of our five senses as we sniff plant samples, listen to animal sounds, and get a chance to touch bones, furs, feathers, and more! What would it be like to hear like a rabbit or see like an owl? Are worms tasty? (Don’t worry, we’ll leave the worm tasting to the frogs!)
Pond Study Active Indoor Option
Leeches and backswimmers, tadpoles and snails – these are just a few of the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit the pond! Students will rotate around four to six stations stocked with samples of pond plants and animals and informational cards about each species, and get a chance to look through a microscope. Some things are ok to touch (like slimy algae and snails) and some are not (backswimmers bite! But don’t worry, they have a lid). This program works best with plenty of adults to encourage and assist students as they explore.
Pond Study Outdoor Option
The park is very excited to introduce the center’s new geothermal pond, made possible by grants from 3M and the Eagle Creek Park Foundation. Students will learn about pond life and ecosystems and use dip nets to scoop for pond creatures. Spring 2015 is the first year for the pond, so it is still being colonized by pond life — outdoor scooping may be supplemented by indoor explorations, depending on how much we catch. Muddy shoes and clothes are a possibility — not recommended for groups that don’t want to get dirty!
Pond Study Video Scope Indoor Option
This class is recommended for groups with fewer adult helpers, or those looking for a more guided introduction to the pond. We will use our video scope magnifying projector to give students an exciting tour of pond plants and animals – watch zooplankton and dragonfly nymphs swim by on the big screen! Ecosystems, aquatic food chains, and water quality are just a few of the lessons that pond inhabitants can teach us.
Adaptations are the tools that allow plants and animals to survive, and they are all around us if you know what to look for. From bushy tails to webbed feet, from pretending to be a stick to playing dead, the countless adaptations of living things are sure to delight and amaze.
Spooky and mysterious, or merely strange and curious — find out how the creatures of the night go about their business and survive in a world of darkness.
Aquatic Animal Adaptations
Snorkels and goggles, flippers and fins — explore the many fascinating ways animals have adapted to survive in underwater environments.
Pioneers & Plants
For pioneer children, knowing the names and uses of the plants around them was essential to their survival. Rather than running to the nearest shopping center, food, medicine, clothing, and other basic needs were obtained directly from the land around them. Students will become pioneers as they learn to look at the forest with an eye for survival. (Since this topic is an outdoor hike, we recommend choosing topics other than “Seasonal Hike” if you will be doing more than one topic).
Build Your Own Habitat
What makes a good habitat? There’s no better way to learn than by building one yourself! Students will create a small terrarium with a pill bug, millipede or other small, harmless creature to take home. Be sure to pre-warn parents, teachers, and other adult helpers that students will be bringing home a harmless living creature! Creatures can go home with students, be kept in the classroom for further study, or released back into the wild at school or at home.
Animals in Winter
They don’t have grocery stores and heated houses, but wild animals still manage to survive in the cold and snow. Learn about some of their amazing adaptations and see what lessons humans can learn about staying warm during the coldest time of year.
This class will separate the opposite from the alternate, and the simple from the compound as we learn the basics of tree identification, mainly indoors with a short walk outside. Recommended for May–October for leaf identification. Winter tree, bud and bark identification is also available.
Students will put water through its paces as they attempt to make paper clips float and see just how much water will stick to a penny. Learn how the weirdness of water makes life as we know it possible.
Wonder of Plants
Plants are vital to our survival in countless ways, and we eat them every day. How often do we stop to give them a closer look? From acorns to pine needles, celery to carrots, the wonders of plants are all around us. We will review the six basic parts of a plant and look at some real life examples and amazing adaptations.
Intro to Geology
What is the difference between a rock and a mineral? How are fossils formed? In this class, we will explore these questions and learn about the three main types of rock and the cycle that changes them. We will also discuss erosion as well as other forces that shape the world we live in.
Students will become water molecules and create a bracelet representing their travels as they journey through the water cycle.
These programs are a hit with every age group, providing up-close and hands-on encounters with plants, live animals, furs, bones, bugs, and more!
Seasonal Nature Hike
Explore the beautiful woodland trails of Eagle Creek Park with one of our talented volunteer naturalists! The goal of the hike is not how far we go, but how much we see, so keep your eyes open and your senses on high alert, and dress for being outdoors. We try to subdivide the nature hike programs into approximately 10–15 students per volunteer naturalist, so be sure you bring enough adults so that at least one can go with each group. We have one gravel trail that is fairly level, and is accessible to some wheelchairs — please let us know if you have questions about accessibility.
Often students are more familiar with sharks, alligators, and elephants than they are with the wildlife living in their own backyards! From white-tailed deer to tiger salamanders, and bald eagles to box turtles, students will learn about Indiana’s fascinating array of wild animal residents. The program may include furs, toy stuffed animals, taxidermy mounts, bones and skulls, and other animal parts and props as well as a few live reptiles, amphibians, or insects depending on the time of year.
Reptiles & Amphibians
Students will get the opportunity to meet some of Indiana’s native reptiles and amphibians up close, and learn about what makes these two groups of animals so unique. Are snakes really slimy? Can turtles leave their shells? Come and find out! Students will have the opportunity to touch a live turtle and/or snake.
Insects are the most diverse and abundant group of animals on earth. A few cause problems for humans, but most of them are beneficial, and without them life as we know it could not exist. Students will learn and review the basics of insect anatomy and life cycles, and then head out to the field to try their hand at catching insects with sweep nets. Please note that the best time for this program as far as insect abundance is late spring through early fall, before the first frost (roughly May–October), and we will not be able to sweep during rain or wet conditions.
Insect Study Indoor Option
This is a great alternative during winter, inclement weather, or for groups wishing for a more in-depth study. We will use live and preserved specimens to explore insect diversity, adaptations, and life cycles. Our video scope magnifying projector allows even large groups to see insects up close and personal on the big screen.
Birds of Prey
For an additional $100 flat fee, we can add a bird of prey program to your field trip rotation at the Earth Discovery Center. Students will meet several of our educational hawks and owls from the Ornithology Center and learn about their individual behaviors, eating habits, conservation, and more. Bird of prey and other bird-related programs can also be scheduled at the Ornithology Center building.
Most programs can be adapted for older students, and specialized program topics may be available. Please call 317.327.7148 for more information!
Five Senses Bird Hike
On this short 30-minute hike, children will touch holes made by two kinds of woodpeckers, see and smell the kinds of foods birds eat, and listen to birds calling in the forest near the Ornithology Center.
Students will meet two of our most colorful birds of prey, then play a color matching game with bird pictures. In the exhibit hall, the children will go for a scavenger hunt to locate and count blue, yellow, and red birds.
What Makes a Bird a Bird
How do you know a bird is a bird? What do birds have that other animals don’t? Students will learn the basic characteristics of birds and go on a short hike to find birds in trees, the sky, on the water, and/or at the feeders.
Habitats, Holes & Hideaways
Every animal needs a habitat, and every habitat
needs certain things! Come learn what a habitat is and go on a short hike to see how many we can find.
Bird Tracks & Signs
In the classroom, we will talk about the different tracks
birds can leave in the woods, including footprints and nests. Then we will go on a hike to see what we can find!
Long bills, short bills, webbed feet, featherless heads?? Birds have an amazing variety of adaptations which allow them to thrive in many ecosystems. Students will “build a bird” of their own from cut outs to learn about adaptations. A second program can be added so students can meet some live birds of prey and learn about predatory adaptations.
In the spring, the woods are filled with beautiful birdsong, and if you look carefully you might spy a nest with little eggs. In this program, we will learn about the life cycle of birds and some of their mating rituals.
Recycle for the Birds
Humans and animals use natural resources in many ways. In this program, we will reuse some common household items to make bird feeders or birdhouses and learn how humans are impacting birds around the world.
Using our unique ornithology exhibit hall with over 100 taxidermy birds, we will explore the different habitats that birds use and the adaptations they need to survive in those habitats.
Bird Eat Bird World
Food chains aren’t always as simple as they seem. We will take a closer look at avian diet and create a food web. A second program can be added to meet some of our live, resident birds at the top of their food chains!
Learn about the natural cycle of decomposition by meeting one of our resident birds who is a master of decomposition: the Turkey Vulture!
Nature has inspired some amazing human inventions. We will talk about some of these creations and the animals that inspired them. Then students will have a chance to dream up their own nature-inspired contraption.
Birds have songs and calls which they use to communicate all sorts of different things! Learn what the birds are saying as well as the science (physics and anatomy) behind how they make these beautiful sounds.
Why do some birds go south for the winter and others stay behind? Students will learn about bird migration and the different hazards birds can face.
Whooo Goes There?
Students will learn all about owls! They will dissect owl pellets ($1 extra fee per pellet), identify the bones that they find, and investigate how scientists learn about owl health and changes in an owl’s environment. A second program can be added so students can meet some of our live, resident owls!
Bird Behavior Scavenger Hunt
Students will learn to identify different behaviors of
birds and explain their functions by searching for birds on a hike or watching for them at our bird feeders. Students will also learn the importance of data collection for scientific discovery and conservation efforts.
Discover bird eggs up close! Learn about egg and chick development and conduct an experiment to test egg strength or see inside an egg!
9th grade and up
Birds of a Feather
Learn about the different families of birds and how scientists separate and name them (taxonomy and phylogeny).
Explore the anatomical features of birds and compare to other animals to see how unique birds really are! This could include skeletal, digestive, nervous, feather/external anatomy, and more.
Home Sweet Home
Students will learn observation and data collection skills by evaluating whether a site at their school or Eagle Creek Park is suitable for a specific bird species. They will learn about habitat requirements and recommend on-site actions to benefit birds in the area.
Are you curious to learn more about birds? We will answer questions such as: do they see colors, can they smell, how much do they weigh, why are they so different? Students will work in small groups and create their own mini bird study and use the Ornithology Center to test their hypothesis.
Natural History Hike
Learn about the history of the Ornithology Center and Eagle Crest Forest Preserve by taking a brief building tour and a hike into the woods. See and learn about the state tree and the state bird. Find out about some of the birds that live in the park today because of the trees that were planted for the preserve.
Bird Conservation and Wildlife Management
Why are there only 160 California Condors left in the wild? What happened to Bald Eagles in the 1950’s? There are many bird topics we can use to talk about wildlife conservation, population management, and natural resources. Just let us know what you are interested in!
Birds of Prey
Have you ever glared at a hawk up close or hooted like an owl? Students can meet several resident permanently injured birds of prey up close and learn about their individual behaviors, eating habits, conservation, and more.
This program can also be brought to your school/facility. Contact 317.327.BIRD (2473) for more information.
Seasonal Nature Hike
Explore the beautiful woodland trails by of Eagle Creek Park! The goal of the Nature Hike is not how far we go, but how much we see, just dress for being outdoors! Visit us in the spring to explore how birds nest and find mates, in the winter to learn how birds cope with the cold, or during your favorite season to discover the natural world of Eagle Creek Park.
In addition to birds, program topics can also include insects, spring wildflowers, tree identification, fall leaves, winter twigs and bark, park history, and more!
Whether you are a group of beginners or lifelong birdwatchers, we can create an exciting birding field trip for you, hiking the trails or sitting in the comfort of our observation rooms! Learn how to identify birds by shape, color, size, habitat, song, and more!
New Activity for Ages 6–12!
The Great Migration Challenge
When the weather begins to turn, millions of birds take to the skies! Children will learn why birds migrate, how they know where to go, and what challenges they might face by pretending to be a migratory bird in our new Migration Obstacle Course!
How large of a group can you accommodate?
The Earth Discovery Center can run three program topics simultaneously in the exhibit hall, wet lab, and dry lab classrooms – comfortably accommodating groups of up to 120 students at a time with 40 students rotating through each area. The exhibit hall can seat up to 70 students plus teachers and adults for groups that would like to stay together for a single program topic. However, we recommend breaking into smaller group sizes for a more hands-on experience.
The Ornithology Center classroom can accommodate a maximum of approximately 30 students at a time. Groups of 60 students can be divided into indoor and outdoor sessions, and larger groups may be possible depending on staff availability.
How many chaperones are required?
Please bring at least one adult for every 10 students. If you are unable to provide enough adults, please let us know ahead of time as this may affect the organization of your program (i.e. larger hiking groups). There is no charge for teachers or adult helpers.
More adults are welcome to come, although if there are large numbers of adults they may need to wait outside some of the smaller classrooms. Please make sure parents and other adults are aware of good behavior during the field trip (set a good example to the students by paying attention, no talking on cell phones during the program, etc.), and are prepared to dress for the weather and hike on the trails if outdoor experiences are included in your program.
How does lunch work?
We recommend scheduling your program so that your students eat lunch near their regular time. Field trips can work up an appetite, and hungry students can have difficulty focusing on their program topic! Use of an outdoor shelter for lunch is included with your program fee. Please let us know at the time of registration if you would like to reserve a shelter for your group. Here are a couple options:
• Earth Discovery Center Shelter is located a short walk from the parking lot with picnic tables for up to 100 students (there are several other picnic tables in the area as well, or you can bring tarps and blankets for additional places for students). Restrooms are available nearby at the Earth Discovery Center; however, there is no playground within walking distance.
• Mount Pleasant Picnic Area is also available for groups with registered programs at the Earth Discovery Center, and has three large covered shelters and plenty of picnic tables, a playground, and a port-o-let restroom facility. Mount Pleasant is not within practical hiking distance for most groups, so you will need to have bus or car transportation for your group to and from the picnic site. If you are taking a lunch break during your program, we recommend allowing 60 minutes for lunch to allow for travel time to and from the shelter.
• Shelter H is available for groups that have registered programs at the Ornithology Center, and has a covered shelter and with tables for up to 100 students, a playground within short walking distance, and flush toilets and sinks (you may wish to bring your own soap for hand washing). The shelter is a short drive or 15-20 minute hike from the Ornithology Center.
Can we use the swimming beach?
The beach is only open in June and July. There is a fee for beach entry in addition to your gate entry fee or environmental education program fee. Please give the beach one-week advance notice with your numbers (campers, students, and supervisors) and to set up a contract if you will not be paying at time of entry. Life jackets are provided. Contact the Beach Manager at 317.327.7132.
Adults (18+) – $4
Youth (3-17) – $3
2 & Under – Free
Swimming Beach Requirements
Ages 1-5; one adult for each group of five
Ages 6+; one adult for each group of 10
All adults must be dressed for swimming and must be in the water with the campers/students—not lounging from the grassy area
Plunge Harbor Inflatable Slide & Trampoline Requirements
• Pass a 35-yard swim test
• Pay an additional $3 for the day
• Wear a life jacket (provided)
How much does a program cost?
1 topic (maximum 30-70 students depending on topic; lasts 30 minutes – 1 hour) – $4/per student
2 topics (maximum 80 students; lasts 1 -1.5 hours) – $5/per student
3 topics (maximum 120 students, lasts 1.5 – 2 hours) – $7/per student
4 topics (includes joint EDC & OC programs with two topic sessions at each center) – $10/per student
12 students or less – $50 minimum program fee
75 students or more – $5/per student discounted rate (availability may vary due to staffing)
Schools with 40% or more of students on free or reduced lunch – $3/per student discounted rate
Teacher/adult helpers (1 adult per 10 students please) – Free
Payment can be made on the day of the program by cash, check (made out to Indy Parks) or credit card, or schools may also pay by purchase order. The program fee includes admission into Eagle Creek Park and use of a shelter picnic area (please schedule picnic area at time of registration).
What if we can’t arrange for transportation, or prefer a school-wide program?
Naturalists can come to you! Outreach programs begin at $75/hour for two live birds of prey (hawks, owls, etc). Additional fees may apply for long distance travel, and night or weekend programming.
What if we have bad weather?
Indiana weather can be extremely unpredictable – we’ve had warm, gorgeous, sunny days in November and near-freezing windy days in May, so be sure to check the forecast before your field trip! You can still go outside even if it is raining or cold, and the park strongly encourages school groups to make sure students are dressed for the weather. For students who are used to rushing from the bus to the school and home again without spending any significant time out of doors, learning to watch the weather forecast and dress appropriately can be an important part of the field trip experience. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!
Above all, we like to see students having a positive field trip experience, which is difficult to do if they are cold, wet, and uncomfortable. If students are not appropriately dressed, we can often provide alternative indoor programming depending on the size and age of the group, or we can do our best to find an alternative open day to reschedule (be aware that this may be difficult to do in spring or fall).
What is your cancellation policy?
The park generally only cancels programs if the weather is dangerous: thunder and lightening, tornado watches and warnings, extremely high winds, icy or dangerous driving conditions, etc. There is no cancellation fee if the park needs to cancel due to weather, or if you notify us before the time of your scheduled program. If you need to cancel or would like to reschedule, please notify the park as soon as possible. Programs cancelled with less than one-week notice for reasons other than inclement weather, or no-show groups (groups that do not call or otherwise notify us of the cancellation) may be charged up to one half their estimated program fee. If you fail to show up for your scheduled program, there will be a $50 cancellation fee.
How do I apply for financial assistance for my group?
The Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS) developed the Letha’s Youth Outdoors Fund to provide financial assistance to student and youth groups for field trips to nature sites. The money is intended to help with transportation costs and/or naturalist fees where no funds exist, as well as promote youth initiated projects/activities that connect kids with nature. The fund is available for any Indiana school/youth group, application is online and can be done at anytime, and response is generally within two weeks. INPAWS is interested in providing youth with the least access to the natural world this opportunity. To find out more or to apply, please visit the INPAWS website here!
Can our group visit the nature centers without scheduling a program?
The Earth Discovery Center and Ornithology Center are both available for unscheduled walk-through visits for schools, camps, and other groups – free with park admission. However, during the park’s busy field trip season (mornings in spring and fall), there may already be other large groups on the premises. Staff may be busy with programs and not available to assist your group or answer questions, and some exhibit areas may be in use and not accessible to your group. Walk-through groups generally spend about 20-30 minutes exploring the Earth Discovery Center and the Ornithology Center. Since the Ornithology Center is not a large facility we recommend calling in advance if you are planning to bring a group of more than 20 students.
You are welcome to bring your group out to the park any time (dawn-dusk) to hike, picnic, and explore. Park admission is $15/per bus and $5/per car for Marion-County residents. Please contact the park office (327.7110) if you are interested in reserving a shelter. If you’d like to rent a classroom at the Earth Discovery Center (327.7148) or Ornithology Center (327.2473), please contact facilities directly.
If you are interested in taking your group swimming at the beach (June & July, 327.7132) or renting bikes/boats from the Marina (May-October, 327.7130), please call those facilities in advance to determine if they can accommodate your group size and ages.
Keep in mind, Eagle Creek is quite large for a city park! If it will be your first visit, we recommend scouting out the area ahead of time, especially if you plan to go hiking on your own, or if you will be bringing a large group of students.
I’m ready to book! What do you need from me?
• Date you are interested in coming, along with a few alternate dates in case that day is full. Due to the high demand for programs, the park cannot “hold spots” or schedule tentative dates.
• Start time (programs begin as early as 10am) and time you would need to be getting on the bus to leave
• Program topic(s)
• Estimated number of students
• Grade level
• Estimated number of adults (we ask that you bring at least one adult per 10 students)
• School address
• Name and contact information
• Whether or not you will need an outdoor shelter for lunch in the park