JEFFERSON COUNTY —Lookout Mountain Nature Center, with its ubiquitous mounted animals and basic nature information, is a popular stop for tourists traveling along the Lariat Loop National Scenic Byway.
latest goal, however, is to rope a different demographic: locals.
"We're funded by a half-a-cent sales tax and, so, we want to make sure we're reaching people who are helping with that," said nature education supervisor Tim Sandsmark, who oversees the center.
The Nature Center, at 910 Colorow Road in Golden, is home of the educational arm of Jefferson County Open Space. While Open Space parks are heavily used by locals, many overlook the free educational programs provided at the center and those throughout the parks, which the center also manages.
Getting more residents to take advantage of those programs — that span stargazing and birdwatching to nature journaling and junior rangers — could help the whole park system.
"We're trying to get them to be good stewards of our parks, too," Sandsmark said. "Not only just to use them, to show them what's available, but also to make them appreciate and take good care of them."
That is why an upcoming revamp at the center will focus more on the park system and make exhibits easier to change out for the seasons, such as upgrading to technology-based displays with screens.
"Part of what we're trying to do is make sure that people from the county and the area have a little bit more to see and do," Sandsmark said.
This is not to say the nature center is not well-loved. Attendance at Lookout Mountain Nature Center has been steadily increasing, setting records in recent years.
Increasing participation in educational programming overall, which includes history education related to parks, is part of Jefferson County Open Space's master plan. It sets some goals for 2019, including increasing annual participation to 77,500; last year, it was already up to 72,545.
"We're well on our way to achieving the goal," Sandsmark said.
Among the most popular programs at the nature center are those for preschoolers, called Nature Nuts, like the "Snug as Bug in the Snow" program about insects in winter that recently drew about 20 children and their parents and caregivers to the center.
"It's very nice for me to get her up here and introduce her to nature," said Karen Force, a Genesee resident who was there with her daughter, Audrey. "We'd gone hiking here before, and I didn't realize that they had the programs until I was looking on the website."
The programs are all led by volunteers — the nature center has amassed a regular group of about 75 — like PJ Jones, who helped develop some of the kids programs.
"It's really fun to offer this type of information to the kids and their parents," Jones said. "It's given me the impetus to learn that much more about the world we live in."
The center also gets a lot of participation in its school programs, which are all tailored to fit in with curricula and be a part of state elementary education standards.
Whether locals visit the nature center or stick to their parks, they can expect to see more educational opportunities, said Thea Rock, spokeswoman for Jefferson County Open Space.
She said the nature center "is really broadening their reach to the people of Jefferson County and, beyond that, this is a nature education resource for them."
Go to jeffco.us/open-space/parks/lookout-mountain -nature-center or call 720-497-7600.