Members and visitors of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center will get a fresh interactive experience with the newly renovated Susan and William Dalton Discovery Center, now open to the public. The Dalton Discovery Center, which originally opened in 2012, is an interactive learning center featuring live animals and exhibits that showcase Southwest Florida’s diverse ecosystems under one roof.
The $5 million expansion and renovation include the new John & Carol Walter Discovery Wing featuring an Invasive Species Gallery and digital Climate Change Gallery with advanced hands-on enhancements. Guests can interact digitally with a Florida animal in an Augmented Reality Wildlife Encounter or learn about the impacts of climate change on the “Science on a Sphere” digital display system.
“Thanks to the support from Sue Dalton, joined by other generous benefactors, including John and Carol Walter, the newly expanded Dalton Discovery Center brings together the latest technologies and hands-on activities to educate, engage and entertain guests of all ages,” said Rob Moher, president and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
The new Invasive Species Gallery in the Walter Discovery Wing explores Burmese pythons, the new apex predator in the Florida Everglades, with a focus on the Conservancy’s nationally recognized Burmese python research and removal efforts. The gallery also examines lionfish, cane toads, and invasive plants.
Also in the Walter Discovery Wing is the Climate Change Gallery, which focuses on the intensification of storms, ocean acidification, and habitat protection. The centerpiece is a spherical digital display system that introduces visitors to the impacts of climate change locally and around the world. The “Science on a Sphere” system was developed by the federal government through the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and has been deployed around the world with partner organizations.
“From human development and habitat fragmentation to invasive species and human-driven climate change, the new Dalton Discovery Center puts the impacts we are having on our planet front and center,” said Alex Levine, director of education at the Conservancy. “It engages visitors in ways not designed to frighten or to discourage, but to inspire action and change.”
Outside of the new Dalton Discovery Center, activities offered include nature walks; activities for younger children in the Little Explorer Play Zone; educational talks focusing on climate change, wildlife, and invasive species; and more. Electric boat tours are offered between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., as well as guided kayak tours.
The Conservancy Nature Center is now open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free to Conservancy members and children ages two and younger. Admission for non-members is $17.95 for adults and $9.95 for children ages three to 12.
The 21-acre Nature Center, also Site #69 on the Great Florida Birding Trail, is the gateway to the Conservancy’s mission, where guests can learn the importance of the area’s natural resources, understand the role the Conservancy plays and get inspired to take action. Visitors can explore interactive exhibits in the Sapakie Wildlife Exhibit Hall, meet animal ambassadors in the viewing pavilion and learn more about how to prevent injury to wildlife.