Building Bish Discovery Center


By Megan Hammaker

Darke County Parks

Darke County Parks is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary. With the passage of the first levy in 1993, the nature center was completed in 1997, twenty-five years after the creation of the park district.

Thousands of people visit the nature center every year to attend programs and events, look at the educational displays, and visit the animal ambassadors. It’s a well-established, much loved gem in Darke County.

Fast-forward 21 years after the completion of the Nature Center, and the park district acquired the old Spencer Landscaping building and 3 acres on Ohio street adjacent to Alice Bish Park in Greenville. It was dubbed the Bish Discovery Center, named after the Tom Bish family, who helped the parks attain ownership of the building and property. But, what was the Bish Discovery Center going to be all about?

After I was hired in January 2019, park director Roger Van Frank, told me that the building was mine to develop. It was a perfect fit, as environmental conservation is something I am extremely passionate about. I began brainstorming. I wanted to fill the center with interactive displays to provide fun, handson learning experiences for visitors. The only problem was, we were still operating on the same budget, after the park district had grown immensely. So, I quickly learned how to write and apply for grants. I slowly chipped away at my goal with the help of many local foundations, such as the Darke County Foundation, Harry Stephens Memorial, Ketrow Foundation, and Lydia E. Schuarer Memorial Trust Fund.

With grant money alone, I was able to add a mural, augmented reality sandbox, pedal power display, outdoor interpretive signs, an educational solar display, and even help get solar panels installed on the garage of the center. I’m continuously spending time searching for grant opportunities and brainstorming new ideas for interactive displays to add in the future.

After the levy passed in 2020 and the park district acquired Historic Bear’s Mill, we were able to launch our kayak/canoe rental program. Because of the location of the Bish Discovery Center, it also acts as a perfect hub for outdoor recreation (the Tecumseh Bike Trail and the Greenville creek both run behind the center). Providing boat rentals to the public made the discovery center a new point of interest and boosted visitors, especially during the spring and summer.

Many programs and smaller events have been held at Bish Discovery Center over the last several years.

I’m always exploring ways to get people in the door so that they can get familiar with the discovery center and see what’s going on. After my first year of helping with Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland, Maple Sugarin’ and Prairie Days, I thought…Bish needs its own big event. I pitched the idea of having a large event in which I named, “Bash at Bish”, to the rest of the programming staff and they were all in.

So, we started making big plans for summer 2020. Well, we all know what happened next. After COVID, we picked up planning again in 2021 in hopes that we could make the event come to life in 2022. Then, we received news that Ohio Street was supposed to be under construction and not easily accessible in 2022, so we pushed off plans again.

After 3 years of our plans getting delayed, we’ve decided we’re finally pulling the trigger for 2023. Bash at Bish is slated to take place on June 24th and we have a ton of fun planned already. Just to give you a taste of what’s to come, we’ve already booked live music, food trucks, and a tree climbing vendor. We’ll have some kayaking fun available that day along with much more! I believe that this event is the big push that the Bish Discovery Center needs to boost numbers in daily visitors and rental increases in the future.

I consider the success of the Bish Discovery Center as a direct reflection of my work. Sometimes I feel like my progress is so slow, and that it’ll take me an eternity to reach the same established success that the nature center has achieved. I have to remind myself that the Nature Center is 25 years old…the Bish is just four. It’s still in its infancy and growing but is already so much more than what it was when I started in 2019.

If you haven’t visited the Bish Discovery Center, please come visit sometime during open hours (M,W,F: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.) and see what the center has to offer.

No posts to display