CRESTVIEW — Area schools have a free resource in town to incorporate hands-on research to accompany earth and environmental science classes.
The John McMahon Environmental Center, a Crestview park, is the region’s oldest native tree collection, the center's namesake, retired forester John McMahon, said.
The park has more than 100 native plants tagged for easy identification, a museum covering regional history, industries and wildlife, two fishponds and a covered outdoor picnic and program pavilion.
"Teachers can use the center as a hands-on aid to tie in with textbook materials," McMahon said.
In May, Antioch Elementary School fourth-graders incorporated science, social studies and language arts into a visit to the McMahon Center.
Classes from nearby Northwood Elementary School also make regular forays to the park. Area daycare centers take groups of youngsters to picnics and wander beneath the many varieties of trees.
McMahon frequently acts as a volunteer guide around the park and museum. Florida Forest Service Senior Forester Maria Wilson is a regular lecturer at the center.
An annual Earth Day program hosted by the Crestview Public Library's youth program draws more than 30 children and parents to the center each April.
"The children are just amazed by everything there — even the smallest things," youth librarian Heather Nitzel said. "Mr. McMahon does such a great job, especially with the little guys.
"At the museum, everything is at their level where they can see and touch. At that age, touching is very important. It's very kid-friendly."
The park is open daily. The museum is open by appointment. There is no charge to visit either facility.
"It's a really peaceful place," Nitzel said. "Even for an adult, it'd be just a peaceful place just to slip in there and have lunch."
Want to go?
What: City of Crestview John McMahon Environmental Center
When: Weekdays, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; museum visits by appointment
Where: Butler Circle, beneath the fire tower opposite Live Oak Park Cemetery
Call the Public Works Parks and Recreation division to arrange group visits, guided tours by retired forester John McMahon, museum visits or group use of the picnic/program pavilion, 682-4715 or 682-6132, ext. 123. Park usage and tours are free.