KINGSPORT — Bays Mountain Park is proud of its herpetarium and high ropes course, particularly since both offerings recently won awards last fall with the Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association.
According to park officials, the herpetarium received an award for being a Renovated Facility with a budget under $100,000 while the ropes course received a Program of the Year award. The four-star awards were for 2012 and were announced last fall.
Built in 1998, the herpetarium is a 2,000-square-foot facility located near the Nature Center and is home to various reptiles and amphibians, such as frogs, turtles, salamanders, snakes and lizards. Notable animals include a rattlesnake, copperhead, bullfrog and snapping turtle.
In the past, the herpetarium was not open during normal business hours at the park, except during times of special programs, such as for visiting students, or when a volunteer was on hand to staff the facility. In addition, the building was behind the times with some of the reptiles and amphibians being housed in simple aquariums on tables.
Deborah Mann, an exhibit artist at Bays Mountain Park, along with Allen Davis, the exhibits director, worked for 10 months renovating the facility.
“(The herpetarium) looked more like it was from the 1960s, way behind the times and we wanted to give it a more modern look,” Mann said.
The renovation includes new animal habitats along the wall with imitation rocks (cut from Styrofoam), new plumbing to all of the habitats, new seats and flooring, painted murals above the snake habitats and new educational signage for the animals.
The centerpiece of the renovated herpetarium is a Styrofoam tree with real leaves stretching out across the ceiling of the main room.
“Allen and I built the whole thing out of Styrofoam. We probably made hundreds of rocks and some we had to do free form,” Mann said. “After the entire wall was covered, we carved it out with knives and saws, coated it with a concrete plaster type material, then painted it.
“It was tedious, but it looks good.”
AGC Flat Glass donated approximately $20,000 worth of nonpermeable glass for the renovations and the Bays Mountain Park Commission allocated $25,000 for the project. The work wrapped up in March 2012.
“One of the big things about what they did was it allowed the herpetarium to be open without supervision,” said Mark Kilgore, recreation coordinator for the park. “We don’Â’t have a lot of extra staff and before, you couldn’Â’t leave people in there with the animals without being supervised. Now it can be open the whole day.”
Two years ago, the park opened its Adventure Education and Team Building rope courses. The courses consist of three wooden towers with ropes, cables and a zip line and are located behind the Farmstead Museum. Participants work together to maneuver across the towers and the courses are generally used as a team-building and problem-solving exercise.
Kilgore said the state award is for the high ropes program, a two-hour course where park officials teach leadership, stamina and trust through various obstacles 28 to 40 feet in the air, an area of the course called “The HawkÂ’s Nest.” The course is popular among area high schools and colleges, business and industry and church and Scout groups.
“It’Â’s very unique, especially to this area, but it is starting to grow across the state,” Kilgore said.