By Cheryl Costello
Sandy Point State Park has been a favorite Bay beach for decades, reaching maximum capacity on many summer weekends. Its distinctive sand and fantastic view of the Bay Bridge keep people coming to swim, picnic, and sunbathe. Now, there’s a new addition to the popular park.
A nature center opened to the public Easter weekend, part of the $2.5 million in ongoing improvements at Sandy Point. The Maryland State Parks-run center was built in partnership with the National Park Service and Chesapeake Conservancy.
Bay Bulletin was there as the first visitors got a look inside—including 13-year-old Lindsay Vaughan of Bowie. Arms outstretched, she measured herself against a life-sized silhouette of different birds’ wingspans. She decided her “wingspan” was closest to that of an osprey.
“Hands-on things are a lot more fun!” she told us, and Ranger Melissa Acuti, Chief of Interpretation for Maryland Park Service, said that’s the idea behind the exhibits at the nature center.
Acuti brought us into a giant bird’s nest made from driftwood.
“So this is a larger-than-life osprey nest so that you, as a human, can get into the nest and feel a little bit what it feels like to be a bird,” she showed us.
Visitors also learned that osprey winter in Central America but come back to the Bay every spring.
“And they’re also a really good indicator species because 99 percent of their diet is fish,” Acuti adds. “In order to have a healthy osprey population in the Chesapeake Bay, we need to have a healthy aquatic environment.”
There are native plant species, an I Spy nature game, and a meadow where the monarch butterfly feels right at home during its migration.
“Many of our species that live here don’t live here all the time, they spend time in other parts of the world. So in terms of conservation, what we do here matters, but it also matters globally,” Acuti explains.
Other interactive learning tools at the nature center include a beaver dam and a discovery drawer. A large, colorful mural of the Bay and its underwater inhabitants is magnetic for a reason. You can move around different animal magnets, like jellyfish—a necessary nuisance.
“They really are an important food source for many species that live in the Bay,” Acuti says.
Visitors at the grand opening were drawn to the magnets.
“You can just put them anywhere you want to. Put the butterfly here. That’s a crab there,” said Hannah Perez, visiting from Columbia.
Mark Akers came from Dundalk to experience the new attraction. “I got my little sister Karen here with me. It’s a way for us to stay together and get connected with nature,” he said.
From oyster spat on shell to a “boat” where you can try on a life jacket and measure some fish, the nature center teaches visitors about the Bay that is just steps away, outside the nature center at Sandy Point.
“In school we don’t really learn about this a lot. So when I go to a park like this, I can learn more about everything and just be more connected,” said Karen Akers.