— Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
Before the new Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre was built, the local natural heritage society was operating out of a building across the road, one more likely to be described by passersby as a shed than a science centre.
Members of the Manuels River Natural Heritage Society met with school groups, presenting on local flora, fauna and one of the world’s most dramatic collections of trilobite fossils.
Their presentations had to be made on school buses if the weather was bad and a walk along the riverside ruled out, since their building could not accommodate visiting classes.
Society members began dreaming of a new home — a central hub for outdoor activity and education along the Manuels River.
After years of work, with fundraising to approach the $8 million needed for construction and educational programming, the new home is now a reality. It was designed by architects from Stantec and found at the Manuels River Bridge, 7 Conception Bay Highway.
It includes classroom space for 60 kids, a floor of interactive exhibits designed and installed by Lord Cultural Resources and Mystus Exhibits, a main-floor café, a 52-seat theatre and a gift shop.
There is a separate event space on the main floor for use in weddings, art shows, business meetings, birthday parties and other rental events.
The centre has a geothermal heating system.
“Rotary was the real catalyst,” said society member Nancy Bennett, during an exclusive preview tour for The Telegram of the new interpretation centre on Wednesday. She credited the Rotary Club of Avalon Northeast with taking up the cause, getting the fundraising efforts moving.
The Town of Conception Bay South offered financial support and in-kind support, Bennett said, with corporations including Vale and Hibernia Management and Development Co. (HMDC) coming on, in addition to government, with significant financial contributions.
The centre is being called the Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre in recognition of a
$3-million donation from HMDC.
“We started off with a concept of what we wanted, which was essentially the ability to have classes come into a building ... and to have a facility that would accommodate that and would also be an asset to the community in so many ways,” Bennett said.
The centre has two full-time managers for its day to day operations and educational programming. Two full-time interpreters have been hired to answer visitor questions about the area and displays. As many as 10 further positions have been funded through grants for at least this season.
“One thing that’s been done all along with this centre has been engaging people in the community,” said manager Keith Moore.
He said programs will continue to be developed and introduced at the centre over time.
Displays inside feature samples from the trilobite fossil collection of Dr. Riccardo Levi-Setti of the University of Chicago — some gathered during his time researching the paradoxides beds along the Manuels River in the 1970s.
On July 8, summer day camps at the centre, sponsored by Nalcor Energy, are set to begin. By the fall, school programs will be in full swing, beginning with visits by Grade 4 students.
For the general public, guided river tours, along upstream and downstream outdoor trails, are being made available. Trails around the centre meet up with the provincial T’Railway system.
The centre will be open year-round and plans to become a centre for geocaching, with GPS units for rent and caches hidden along the area trails.
A geocaching event is set for opening week this Sunday.
The building opens up to the public on Thursday and admission will be free all day.
An invitation-only event is being held today, Wednesday, with representatives for the Manuels River Natural Heritage Society, the Rotary Club of Avalon Northeast and HMDC all on hand.
Also expected to attend are: Mayor Woodrow French of Conception Bay South; Keith Hutchings, minister of innovation, business and
rural development; Terry French, minister of tourism, culture and recreation and Lieut.-Gov. Frank Fagan.
After the official opening day on Thursday, the centre will remain open 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The centre will be open noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.