Home on the range will look a little different at River Bend Nature Center this year, thanks to its latest addition — an igloo that can’t melt. The igloo will make its debut at the nature education facility’s annual holiday display, ElectriCritters, which opens at 6:30 tonight for its five-weekend run.
Times Record News file art Roses light the path at River Bend Nature Center's ElectrCritters. More than 40,000 lights illuminate 150 lighted nature forms at the nature education center during the holidays annually, from coyotes to a hooting howl, Old Man Winter, tulips, chicks and more.
“If you took a sphere and cut it in half, the radius at the bottom would be 8 feet, and it’s 4 feet in height. We’re trying to make it just about right for small children to go and play in,” said Rip Martin, one of the Midwestern State University engineering students who volunteered to build the igloo for River Bend.
What’s neat about the structure is that, while it isn’t made out of the traditional igloo material — ice — it is made out of something near and dear to River Bend’s heart.
“We’re making it out of recycled Styrofoam blocks,” Martin said.
Recycling and reuse have always been big buzz words for the nature center, which champions the idea of being good stewards of the environment.
The engineering students were approached by ElectriCritters committee member Jill Avis in the summer. They worked on the cold-weather habitation at an off-site location for several weeks before setting it up in the pavilion area.
The group is working on lighting the structure in some way, as is the modus operandi of ElectriCritters, and perhaps including a way for parents to view inside so they can peek in on the little ones.
The igloo isn’t the only new feature at ElectriCritters, by the way.
Organizers are also adding toasty Frito chili pie to the menu for the first time.
The chili pie be a welcome addition to a menu that will see the return, once again, of a perennial favorite, s’mores, at a time when it looked like s’mores and campfires might be out of the equation because of the recent burn bans during the summertime drought. But no worries.
There will be s’mores, along with hot cocoa, warm cider and popcorn.
Beyond the eats, visitors to ElectriCritters — roughly 4,000 to 5,000 visit annually over the five-weekend run — can make their way through the Bryant Edwards Learning Center and the Ruby N. Priddy Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. It’s in the learning center where guests can commune with a menagerie of creatures, like mice and spiders.
And in the butterfly conservatory, the center’s “indoor nature lab,” they will find living organisms and replicas of organisms that they would find in the Rolling Plains region, along with more than 100 native plant species and an indoor pond where they can view aquatic life.
Of course, they might see a butterfly or two, as well, though at nighttime, the butterflies are more likely to be gathered in the conservatory’s trees.
Beyond that, several musical groups will perform during the run of River Bend to add a little sparkle to the season.
On the schedule are vocalist Michael Merrill on Saturday, the Rider Guitar Ensemble on Dec. 2, Floral Heights United Methodist Church’s Chancel Choir on Dec. 3, Kirby Junior High Choir Dec. 9 and the Faith Baptist Church Senior Adult Choir on Dec. 16.
The highlight of River Bend, of course, is viewing the lighted nature forms on the nature trail and throughout the nature facility. After curving down the switchback portion of the paved walkway that leads to the nature trail, visitors will see everything from a snow storm, complete with snowflakes, to a deer herd, animated coyotes, Old Man Winter blowing a cold blast of air, an owl, alligator and more. And some of the lighted displays come complete with nature sounds.
The display includes some 150 lighted nature forms illuminated by about 40,000 twinkling lights.
Guests also won’t want to miss Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and Rudolph in the general store and storytelling in the covered wagon. And the gift shop will be open for unique gift-giving ideas with a nature slant, from sparkling minerals to water bottles.
ElectriCritters will be open Friday and Saturday nights through Dec. 17, then Thursday, Dec. 22, and Friday, Dec. 23.
The event is the biggest fundraiser of the year for River Bend, which is known for such events as Not-So-Scary Halloween, Earth Day and BugFest, to name a few.
ELECTRICritters Concert SCHEDULE
All performances during the run of ElectriCritters at River Bend start at 7 p.m.
Saturday: Michael “The Voice” Merrill. Merrill, who managed fitness facilities while serving in the Air Force, turned to singing after he retired. The Chicago native has performed at everything from FallsFest to the famed Johnny High’s Country Music Revue in Arlington. Merrill will perform traditional holiday music and tunes from his Christmas CD.
Dec. 2: The Rider High School Guitar Ensemble. Rider High has performed several times at River Bend for ElectriCritters. The group’s repertoire includes everything from Spanish and Baroque tunes to classical and contemporary pieces. The ensemble is under the direction of Bruce Canafax.
Dec. 3: Floral Heights United Methodist Church’s Choir, under the direction of Karen Lambeth, returns to River Bend to bring sparkle to the season with holiday tunes.
Dec. 9: The Kirby Junior High School Choir also is a returning performance group to ElectriCritters. The choir is led by Melanie Coons.
Dec. 16: The Faith Baptist Church Senior Adult Choir will bring on the festive and reverent holiday tunes.