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Nov. 20, 2018
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Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center

By Pamela A. Keene
 
Many people in Gwinnett County and surrounding areas know about the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center as a place where school-aged children take field trips to learn about water and how it has affected the history of Northeast Georgia, that is, IF they know about it at all.
 
But it is so much more than an educational center. Opened in 2006 on a 700-acre wooded campus that is also home to the F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center near I-985 near Ga. 20, the facility holds secrets to the forebears of the area as well as interactive science and nature exhibits for all ages.
 
The EHC, as it’s called by area officials and locals in the know, hosts public events throughout the year, including the upcoming Holiday Arts and Crafts Show on December 1. With arts and crafts vendors, family activities, breakfast with Santa and rides on the GEHC Holiday Express, it’s a chance for people to get to know a valued local resource. The show takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is open to the public at no charge. 
 
“The EHC is an oasis of nature, right next to the Mall of Georgia, and it has many activities and events to offer people of all ages,” said Jason West, manager of the facility. “As an educational, environmental, science and social studies showcase, it is a treasure in our community.” 
 
The EHC’s main hall highlights how water shaped Gwinnett from the time of the Native Americans to the development and operations of Lake Lanier. An adjacent exhibit room, Discover H2O, provides hands-on experiences that explain the workings of a wastewater treatment plant, show the affects of erosion on the area’s topography and how evaporation happens. 
 
The concept began to come to life in the mid-1990s, about the same time as the initial design of the F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center. When it opened, the EHC was LEED-certified, recognized as a representation of sustainable design, construction and operation, including energy efficiency, water conservation and good use of resources.
 
“It’s partnership among the Gwinnett Department of Water Resources, Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation and other agencies,” said Mark Patterson, deputy director for the Department of Community Services, which oversees the EHC. “It is becoming a world-class environmental education facility, especially because it ties into the Water Resource Center.” 
 
The building houses a laboratory and classrooms where students can learn about nature and the environment. Through a recent project, students studying “Keystone” species, those that form the foundation of wildlife in the area, built their own beaver dams. “Putting their hands in the mud and sticks to construct a working dam makes the concept come to life, more than just reading a book about it,” West said. “As with all our public programs, experiences are hard to forget when they are memorable.” 
 
The center hosts more than 100,000 visitors each year who come for traveling exhibits, educational programs and family activities. Nearly 2,500 volunteers are involved annually.”
 
Beyond educational programming, the campus has more than 10 miles of hiking, biking and walking trails and offers Tree Top Quest, an adventure course.
 
Historic preservation is part of the mix as well. The historic 1800s Chesser-Williams House was moved from the Hog Mountain area to the campus. “Visitors can see the period’s architecture and learn about how people lived during those times,” Patterson said.
 
According to its website the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center is a collaboration of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, Gwinnett County Public School System, the University of Georgia, and the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center Foundation. The center’s exhibits were designed with input from Gwinnett County Public Schools to ensure that each exhibit’s content supports the requirements of the AKS (Academic Knowledge and Skills Curriculum) of the Gwinnett County K-12 School System and Georgia Standards of Excellence.
 
Since opening in October 2006, the EHC expanded to work with schools – public, private and homeschool – as well as with summer camps, Boy/Girl Scouts, and daycare/preschool), with growth in its diverse exhibit programming (traveling, art, community, permanent, and juried exhibits), and growth in its rental/special event programming (business meetings, weddings, 5K races, and festivals).
 
Plans over the next several years call for an ADA-accessible treehouse and other improvements to the facility. 
 
“People think that the EHC is just a place for school field trips, but it is so much more than that,” West said. “The biggest thing we’d like people to know is that the EHC is for everyone.”
 
 The Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center is located at 2020 Clean Water Dr. in Buford. Hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to  4 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Trails are open from dawn to dusk. Admission is free. Some specific programs and events do have a charge.
 
For more information visit www.gwinnettehc.com or call 770 904-3500.

Posted online 10/29/18
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