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A new place to get closer to nature

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Miller Center at Red Orchard Park opens in April

By Lisa King

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The childhood home of a man who has already given so much to the county will soon be the main attraction at Red Orchard Park.

Clarence Miller donated the grounds for the park in 2007, and park officials say that by spring, the farm house where he grew up will be transformed into the Miller Outdoor Education Center.

Miller’s 2-story frame house sits just inside the entrance to the park, and plans are under way to convert the structure into a facility that will provide numerous exhibits of local wildlife and fauna as well as the history of the park.

“We will have a room devoted to the Miller family and the farm, and then we’ve got one that’s devoted to native ecosystems,” said Sara Johns, a forest ranger who is acting as a Trail Blazers volunteer coordinator for the parks board.

 “We have also met with Clarence Miller and have done a video recording that will be at the center later,” Parks Director Clay Cottongim said. “You can push a button, and it will be Clarence himself talking about the farm history and how they farmed and what it was all about.”

That exhibit, which will be located in the former living room of the house, will feature photos of the farm along with Miller’s narration of the farm’s varied agriculture at its height of production during the 1940s.

In another room, there will be shoulder mounts of bison, elk and deer, which will stand watch over engaging displays that will tell the story of Kentucky’s native tall grass prairie and how the Shawnee Indians used fire to sustain their ecosystems.

Cottongim was particularly excited Wednesday about receiving the first of those mounts – a huge elk mount donated by Steve Freibert, who raises bison in Henry County.

“We just got this yesterday, and we’d like to have some more donated to us, so if anyone has any they’d like to donate, we would really appreciate it,” he said.

Cottongim said a $10,000 donation by Eugene and Margery Pflughaupt enabled his department to get the project off the ground.

Atmos Energy also constructed a handicap ramp and deck entrance. Many others have helped also, he said, including the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, which planted native grasses, the Soil Conservation District, which planted trees, and the Clear Creek Park Trail Blazers, who have established a 29-box bluebird trail and also built owl, kestrel and wood duck nesting boxes.

Cottongim said he is proud of the way the community has embraced the center.

“Everyone is excited about it and many people are helping to make it reflect the true uniqueness of the county,” he said.

For example, Linda Powell, a member of Shelby Artists on Main, will be doing some of the mural artwork, and Chino Ross, owner of Countryside Cabinets on Mount Eden Road, will loan the center his treasured birds-nest collection.

“My collection is in a mahogany cabinet, and there must be at least fifty nests in there from all kinds of birds, some of them dating back from when I was a teenager,” Ross said. “It’s an awesome collection and all the nests are identified as to what kind of bird made it.”

The Shelby County Beekeepers Association will donate an observation beehive. Beekeeper Buddy Bowles explained this is a hive they made especially for the center.

“It will have glass sides so you can see in and see the bees, the drones, the workers and the queen,” Bowles said.

The master plan for the center also calls for a flowing-stream aquarium, which visitors can view at eye level while they listen to the calls of native frogs and toads.

Other exhibits will include Miller’s arrowhead collection and an Audubon Room.

The Pflughaupts’ donation got the center under way, but it’s going to take a lot more money to complete all these features, Cottongim said.

“These exhibits will be completed as we receive funds, as well as changed from time to time to keep things fresh for our visitors,” he said. “The total project is about eighty thousand dollars, so we still have seventy-thousand dollars to go. But we are doing a lot in-house, and we are getting donations of mounts and other things. Also, we’ve applied for several grants. We are calling what we’re doing now Phase I.”

A walkthrough for city and county officials will be held at the center at 5 p.m. Tuesday, and Cottongim said the public is welcome to attend as well.

“This is just to show people what we’re doing here, a work in progress sort of thing,” he said.