The Summit Learning Center (SLC) is open from 11 to 4 Friday through Monday, other days as can be arranged. Wednesday this week was cold and drizzly–in the low 50s at the top–yet dozens of bicyclists and far more hikers than I imagined had venture out in the weather and arrived at the top, cold, wet, and euphoric. At 10:45, faced with the decision to sit in a cramped RV all day or open the learning center where coffee and heat are found, I decided to open up and put the bikers and hikers out of their smug misery.
The SLC’s budget may never be the same. Coffee, hot chocolate, and tea were in (pun intended) hot demand, and directions to the “shortest way back to…” hikes were requested. Thankfully, I’d hiked both trails leading to/from the SLC, so the questions were easily answered. The supply of cups and hot chocolate were not so easily extended. Still, at least so far in our one week of hosting, that day was fairly typical.
Darlene is the usual Friday and Moday interpretive host, and she is the creative person behind most of the signs and artwork around the center. She, along with Doug (whom we replaced as on-site “interpretive host”), are also the bat specialists, and Doug does all-things-electronic. There used to be a tank of Kokanee fry to educate visitors about the fish hatchery at the base of the mountain as well as a display of live newts, but both have been discontinued as the tiny environments were deemed stressful to the temporary residents. The plan is to create a “bat cam” that will show bats in their natural habitat, without disturbing them (see Elliott’s post on bats (and if I did this right, that should link to his excellent article).
Most of the five hours of hosting duties is spent answering questions, such as:
- Why is Mount Constitution called Constitution?
Because Robert Moran, the man who donated the land for the state park, named it after the USS Constitution. He made his fortune as a shipbuilder.
- How high is Mount Constitution?
Depending on which geologic survey you ask, anywhere between 2398 and 2409 feet. The latest and probably most accurate is the 2398 figure.
- Why are female eagles bigger than males (in response to a question on the wall)?
Nobody knows for sure, but consensus seems to be evolving around the fact that females spend more time on the nest than males after the chicks are born, and baby eagles don’t yet have the ability to regulate their temperature, so mama eagle hovers and provides the warmth they need for the first two weeks or so.
Thankfully, there’s a computer at the center, so if something else comes up I can Google it, such as “What are the caves on the trail and where do they lead? Do they have bears here?” (Mine shafts and no, respectively.)
There’s also a coloring and treasure hunt station. The SLC has a sheet of images that kids are supposed to find and then circle with a crayon (a bird, a moth, grass, etc.). When completed (even partially), the child gets a prize. The best thing for kids is a “Journey Pack,” which includes binoculars, a magnifying glass, several books, and plant identification charts, and they can check out the pack, to be returned to the park office at the base a day or so later.
There’s also a 24-hour webcam showing the weather at the tower, updating every couple of minutes (currently cloudy, cold, and drizzly).
The SLC is operated by Friend of Moran State Park, a nonprofit volunteer organization. They also operate the gift shop across the way, and are the ones who arranged for us to be hosts here. All of their funds go to making Moran State Park a rewarding, enchanting, and educational resource for visitors.