PARRISH -- Melissa Nell fondly remembers going as a child with her family to a science center and enjoying the learning experience.
Now the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department manager hopes the new nature center at Rye Preserve can excite and educate others about Manatee County's uplands.
Rye Preserve, 905 Rye Wilderness Trail, is a 145-acre preserve on the Manatee River northwest of the Lake Manatee Dam.
"I hope that some of that super magic awesome learning that happened there can happen here," Nell said from inside the nature center set to open this fall at Rye Preserve. "I really hope that we can provide an experience out here that is not just educational but will spark learning that will continue."
Housed inside a converted school portable building, the nature center has eight exhibits focused on the history of Rye Preserve or the upland habitat in Manatee County. Some exhibits include Florida's phosphate story with fossils, the history of Rye, scrub jay and the rebirth from the ashes.
"This will be one of the few sites that tells that story about uplands, which is very unique," said Nell, who heads the volunteer and education division.
The nature center, which cost about $200,000, was made possible by the Mosaic Foundation, Manatee County and volunteers who installed the floor and painted the ceiling and walls. Creative Arts Unlimited Inc. designed and installed the exhibits.
"We wanted to make sure the nature center would work for different ages," Nell said.
There are hands-on aspects and opportunities to dress up in the prescribed fire and history exhibits.
While the nature center will open at least once a month to start when staff can be in there to answer questions, Nell said they will add more interactive components at different times.
"We wanted to have the ability to have it be dynamic and exciting," she said.
Robinson Preserve and Emerson Point Preserve are the best-known county preserves, but the county doesn't have as well-known places yet in East Manatee, said Aedan Stockdale, education and volunteer specialist in the Parks and Natural Resources Department.
"They don't have anything in their backyards," Stockdale said.
Nell said people asked why the nature center was going to be at Rye Preserve.
"We recognize the growth of eastern Manatee County is substantial," Nell said. "It's still really cool stuff to see. Everything we do in this division is done with the intent of not just to tell you something, but help get the connection to nature. We want to inspire. We want to amaze and not just inform."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.