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Evolution of the Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory 

Board member Harry Hamilton and Sunriver Nature Center Director Jennifer Curtis consider the life of our native bears, from the inside out. Photo by Jim Anderson.

Board member Harry Hamilton and Sunriver Nature Center Director Jennifer Curtis consider the life of our native bears, from the inside out. Photo by Jim Anderson.

If there's one constant in nature, it's change. Some people call it evolution and scoff at the idea, but as you look around there's no denying that, given a certain set of circumstances, you adapt and change, or die.

This is also true with facilities that serve the public. Right here in Deschutes County we have a humdinger: the Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory, which has been producing wonderful educational programs about the nature of Central Oregon since 1973.

I can remember vividly—even with my oncoming loss of memory—the first time I experienced the value of a nature center. I was eight years old and had just walked into Peabody Museum at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. I was bowled over by the ancient triceratops skeleton; it changed the way I think, the way I live, and many of my activities as I "grew up."

The other exhibit at Peabody I can remember is the display of fulgurites—those formations of sand or sediment fused by lightning strikes. The bottom of a long, welded sandy shoreline was on the first floor of the museum and the top was on the second floor. From that day forward, every thunderstorm I witnessed sent me looking for fulgurites. The last time I was in Peabody the triceratops was still there, along with hundreds of other exciting exhibits, including a life-size replica of a Dodo bird.

When I was the lookout on Lava Butte many years ago, I would make a mark on a map where lightning hit. As soon as I was off duty I went looking for fulgurites. Sadly, I've never found one...But I did find the imprint of where great balls of lightning rolled away from a giant old ponderosa pine that was split wide open by a colossal strike.

I see changes in nature all around me. The gray squirrels that make a nuisance of themselves messing around with our bird feeders were not here when I rolled into Bend on my Harley in 1951; neither were the striped skunks that are slowly driving off our native spotted skunk.

And then there's the present Nature Center and Observatory at Sunriver, that began life as an "Ecologium" conceived by Bob Royston, the original land planner who gave life to Sunriver. This sign was erected on the Great Meadow in 1971 and was—and still is—a message for residents and visitors alike.

John Gray of Portland was the chief spark plug. He and another great thinker, Don McCallum, got Bob involved right from the get-go. I was fortunate to talk Mr. Gray into hiring me to turn the ecologium into reality by giving life to it in what was then a laundromat in Abbot House, near where The Village is today. I thought the title "Ecologium" was a little too formal, so I asked Royston if we could call it the "Sunriver Nature Center." He went for it, and as they say, "The rest is history."

When I left Sunriver, Jay Bowerman stepped in and made it really fly. His plan got the homeowners into it, and the next step was to add the observatory, improve the wildlife rehab facility, create educational exhibits and build the Pozzi lecture hall.

All during the year there are special programs in the Pozzi Education Center, located right next door to the Nature Center. Among them is the annual birthday celebration for our late poet laureate, William Stafford, on or about Jan. 17. Bend high schools participate while others in the Bend/Sunriver community read Stafford's works and their own poetry during the celebration.

Fundraising Efforts

Now, there's a fundraiser underway for the observatory's Stairway to the Stars expansion—including another roll-off roof east of the observatory and six more piers for telescopes. The fundraising goal is $250,000.

The next project on the list is new improvements and expansion of the parking lot. With the observatory overflowing on summer nights, they're currently turning people away, and they're also hoping to add overflow parking behind the observatory. The observatory's Astronomer-To-Go program offers daytime and nighttime programs at schools throughout the tri-county area. The staff also wants to able to take solar and nighttime telescopes into schools.

The observatory has many smaller projects planned, and the concept of a planetarium theater is still on its bucket list, as the Board has set aside the area to build it. When it gets the funding, the plan is to build a 120-seat planetarium theater which could also show movies and live presentations in theater-style seating.

Nature Center Director Jennifer Curtis says, "It seems like everywhere I go, no one has ever heard of SNCO (Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory) which I feel sad and discouraged about. We are extremely special and I want to continue providing outstanding opportunities to our Central Oregon students, teachers, families, nature lovers, visitors, and more."

A suggestion: The next time you're headed south on 97, carve out time to stop at Sunriver. Follow the signs to the Nature Center and Observatory.

And, about those beautiful roundabouts in Sunriver: I had the privilege of being in a planning meeting when the superintendent said to Royston, "About those roundabouts, Bob, they're going to take up a lot of room where houses could be built and they're going to slow people down...are they really necessary?

Royston stood up, and with a suggestion of a smile on his face he replied, "Yes, Len, they are necessary. Why would anyone want to live in this beautiful paradise and rush from one place to the other? Roundabouts slow people down so they can appreciate the beauty of the land." And so they do.

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