A menagerie of exhibits at Williamstown Rural Lands Interpretive Center


WILLIAMSTOWN -- An Eastern Phoebe took up residency this summer in the former dairy barn at Sheep Hill.

But Leslie Reed-Evans, executive director of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, said the mother bird was welcome at the organization’s new Dietze Interpretive Center.

"We consider this a habitat too," she said. "It’s neat that they’ve chosen to live in here and we can watch their progression."

The center, housed in a rustic, circa-1810 dairy barn on the historic Sheep Hill property, was dedicated at the organization’s annual meeting in May.

Reed-Evans said the center fits in with part of the organization’s mission "to preserve open and accessible space for the benefit of present and future generations."

Along with owning more than 560 acres across 14 rural properties, the nonprofit offers educational programs, including hikes, workshops and children’s summer camps.

The center had a soft opening last summer with the help from a challenge grant by Williamstown residents Maureen and Jack Dietze. Another such grant created the interpretive naturalist position, which Maria Dunlavey has stepped into this summer. Today at 1, for example, Dunlavey will lead a hike along the Fitch Trail.

The center ties in with the 50-acre property’s rich history, on which the Rosenburg family operated a dairy farm until 1998. It’s served as the organization’s headquarters since it acquired it in 2000.

"Things that happened on the farm before we owned it are what shaped the kind of habitat and nature we have today," Reed-Evans said.

Visitors to the center will find a series of interactive displays meant to engage people young and old.

A series of maps include aerial views of the property in 1942, 1952, 1980 and today, depicting land use changes there over decades.

One wall is completely filled with tools the Rosenburg family would have used on the farm. Other displays depict the plant and animal life on the property.

At a "nature discovery area," visitors can examine a snake skin under a microscope or see tadpoles up close in an aquarium.

From there, visitors can walk through one of the Berkshires’ many open spaces and apply their newly acquired knowledge of the natural world, Reed-Evans said.

Reed-Evans said both she and Dunlavey hope to keep the center populated throughout the summer.

"We want to encourage multiple visits," Reed-Evans said.

The Sheep Hill property is at 671 Cold Spring Road (Route 7), a mile south of the Williamstown rotary. It’s open daily from dawn until dusk.

The Dietze Interpretive Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and every Saturday morning, except July 26.

For more information, visit http://wrlf.org.


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