Sam Eubanks (far right) with colleagues during the ground breaking ceremony. Photo via The Standard.
Big things are underway at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences Contentnea Creek location, and EENC Member Sam Eubanks is at the center of it all.
The NC Museum of Natural Sciences at Contentnea Creek, located near Ayden in Pitt County, has provided over 20,000 visitors a year with astronomy education, environmental education programming, and recreation opportunities since 2020 as an official branch of the NC Museum of the Natural Sciences (NCMNS), and for many years before that while operated independently by A Time for Science.
Contentnea Creek boasts almost 400 acres of conserved land for guests to paddle, hike, and explore, as well as a planetarium and public observatory. But to date, the only classroom space on site has been the Green Resource Center, a modified construction trailer used to host programs and events. “The Green Resource Center at Contentnea Creek has served us well for many years,” notes the NCMNS Contentnea Creek team. “But now it is time for a change.”
This year, with the help of public and private funding totaling over $1 million, that change is coming: in the form of a brand new environmental education center.
In late May, in a ceremony attended by Jeff Michael, Deputy Secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources; Mike Sagar, Interim Director for NCMNS; and Nancy and John Bray, founders of A Time for Science; the NCMNS team broke ground on the Nancy and John Bray Environmental Education and Visitor Center, a 6,000 square foot space that will house classrooms and exhibits designed specifically for use by Contentnea Creek educators and visitors.
“What Contentnea Creek does so well is putting young people and even adults out into nature for that experiential learning opportunity,” noted Michael during the ceremony. “You know science in a classroom is great – it’s the foundation we need to understand science – but until you actually get out in nature, see it live, and see the connections, particularly in an integrated ecosystem like here, I think it just has that added something that brings it alive for young people…I think expanding the opportunities here at Contentnea Creek is just going to be a great thing for not just Pitt County, but all of eastern North Carolina” (The Standard).
Also at the ceremony, breaking ground alongside her colleagues, was EENC Professional Member Sam Eubanks, Education Coordinator for NCMNS Greenville and Contentnea Creek. She’s been involved in the new environmental education center’s planning from its earliest stages, including making contributions to the building’s design.
“The planning process has been a coordination between all our full-time staff and the architects, engineers and builders,” Eubanks told us. “As education coordinator, I was able to offer input about an ideal space for storing materials and activity kits, what the ideal classroom set-up would entail, and which exhibits we want to feature at this location. We all talked about features we've noticed and loved in other education centers and brainstormed ways to set ourselves up for success with the design of this building.”
Left: Eubanks teaches in the Green Resource Center. Photo courtesy of Sam Eubanks.
Now that construction is underway on the new center, set to open in time for fall programming (Public Radio East), all that’s left to do is wait – and get excited for what’s to come. Eubanks, and the rest of the Contentnea Creek and NCMNS team, are particularly looking forward to the increased capacity and programmatic opportunities that the new center will offer.
“This building has been designed with our needs in mind from the very beginning, and I can't wait to see how it helps improve the ease of hosting large groups and running field trips and camps,” Eubanks says. “It will give us more flexibility for trips in the heat of the summer months and will eliminate a need to preemptively cancel trips because of weather…As education coordinator, this means I will need to turn away fewer groups hoping to visit us in the summer months without interfering with camps. We will have more to offer visitors with physical limitations and waiting in line for the bathroom will no longer be a concern for large groups or the youngest visitors.
We hope the new EE center will make people feel more comfortable enjoying the Contentnea Creek location on their own or as a family…In addition to camps, field trips and walk-on visitors, we hope this new site can serve as a hosting site for various environmental education gatherings, trainings and celebrations.”
And don’t forget about the exhibits.
“The exhibition space will give students an opportunity to see some of our native wildlife up close and personal, which we can't always guarantee on a trail hike,” says Eubanks. “We hope to highlight the value of some of our native swamp dwellers with our ‘What Lies Beneath’ aquarium exhibition. Our exhibits at this location will primarily focus on the wildlife in our backyard, which can often be overlooked in favor of more exotic wildlife. We hope this connection helps visitors feel pride and a sense of place here in Eastern NC.”
The NCMNS Contentnea Creek and Greenville locations have always sought to “reflect the relevant needs of audiences in northeastern North Carolina” (NCMNS), and a central aim of the new Contentnea Creek environmental education center is to add to, and further, those efforts by increasing access to environmental education for northeastern counties.
It’s important work, especially so because recent results from the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance’s nine-state landscape analysis of the environmental education field found significant service gaps “in rural areas, areas with the highest social vulnerability index, and areas with the lowest income,” including in northeastern North Carolina. The forthcoming environmental education center stands to help fill that gap, and strengthen environmental education’s presence in one of our state’s historically underserved regions.
The center’s namesakes, Nancy and John Bray, have a driving purpose that has guided all their work with A Time for Science and NCMNS: to help people explore nature, do science, and have fun. And thanks to the leadership and dedication of EENC Member and Educator Coordinator Sam Eubanks, visitors will soon have a new space to do just that.
Eubanks leads an outdoor lesson. Photo courtesy of Sam Eubanks.
Look forward to the grand opening of Nancy and John Bray Environmental Education and Visitor Center at Contentnea Creek this fall – and in the meantime, enjoy the onsite hiking trails, open daily from dawn to dusk, and visit the NCMNS Greenville location, open Tuesday through Saturday, 10am-5pm.