The Earth Discovery Center and Ornithology Center at Eagle Creek Park both offer environmental education programming for groups of all ages. Our programs emphasize putting children in touch with the amazing diversity of plants and animals native to Indiana and fostering a sense of wonder, enthusiasm, and stewardship for the natural world. Program fees are $4 to $5/student for most programs.
The Earth Discovery Center and Ornithology Center are available for unscheduled walk-through visits for schools, camps, and other groups, free with park admission; however, during our busy field trip season (mornings in spring and fall) there may already be other large groups on the premises. Staff may be busy programming and not available to assist your group or answer questions, and some exhibit areas may be in use for programming and not accessible to your group. Walk-through groups generally spend about 20-30 minutes exploring the Earth Discovery Center and the Ornithology Center. Since the Ornithology Center is not a large facility we recommend calling in advance if you are planning to bring a group of more than 20 students.
You are welcome to bring your group out to the park any time (dawn-dusk) to hike, picnic, and explore. Park admission is $15/bus and $5/$6 per car. Please contact the park office (327-7110) if you are interested in reserving a shelter. If you would like to rent a classroom at the Earth Discovery Center (327-7148) or Ornithology Center (327-2473) please contact those facilities directly.
If you are interested in taking your group swimming at the Beach (327-7132) or renting bikes or boats from the Marina (327-7130), please call those facilities ahead of time to determine if they can accommodate your group size and ages.
Keep in mind, Eagle Creek is quite large for a city park! If it will be your first visit, we recommend scouting out the area ahead of time, especially if you plan to go hiking on your own or if you will be bringing a large group of students. Eagle Creek Park Map
These programs are a hit with every age group, providing up-close and hands-on encounters with plants, live animals, furs, bones, bugs, and more!
Seasonal Nature Hike - explore the beautiful woodland trails of Eagle Creek Park with one of our talented volunteer naturalists! The goal of the Nature Hike is not how far we go, but how much we see, so keep your eyes open and your senses on high alert, and dress for being outdoors. We try to subdivide Nature Hike programs into approximately 10-15 students per volunteer naturalist, so be sure you bring enough adults so that at least one can go with each group. We have one gravel trail that is fairly level, and is accessible to some wheelchairs - please let us know if you have questions about accessibility.
Indiana Wildlife - often students are more familiar with sharks, alligators, and elephants than they are with the wildlife living in their own backyards! From white-tailed deer to tiger salamanders, bald eagles to box turtles, students will learn about Indiana's fascinating array of wild animal residents. Program may include furs, toy stuffed animals, taxidermy mounts, bones and skulls, and other animal parts and props as well as a few live reptiles, amphibians, or insects depending on the time of year.
Reptiles and Amphibians - students will get the opportunity to meet some of Indiana's native reptiles and amphibians up close and learn about what makes these two groups of animals so unique. Are snakes really slimy? Can turtles leave their shells? Come and find out! Students will have the opportunity to touch a live turtle and/or snake.
Insect Study - insects are the most diverse and abundant group of animals on earth. A few cause problems for humans, but most of them are beneficial, and without them life as we know it could not exist. Students will learn/review the basics of insect anatomy and life cycles, and then head out to the field to try their hand at catching insects with sweep nets. Please note that the best time for this program as far as insect abundance is late spring through early fall, before the first frost (roughly May-October), and we will not be able to sweep during rain or wet conditions. We can provide an alternative indoor insect program that includes live and preserved insect specimens.
Birds of Prey - for an additional $100 flat fee, we can add a Bird of Prey program to your field trip rotation at the Earth Discovery Center. Students will meet several of our educational hawks and owls from the Ornithology Center and learn about their individual behaviors, eating habits, conservation, and more. Bird of Prey and other bird-related programs can also be scheduled at the Ornithology Center building - please call 327-BIRD for more information, or see below for OC program topics.
Pre-K to 1st Grade
Sensory Adventure - students will review the five senses and use four of them as they explore the natural world. Sniff, look, listen, and touch (except for the poison ivy), but please don't taste the bugs! Program may be done indoors using live animals, seeds, bones, furs, feathers, taxidermy mounts, and other natural items, or as a themed nature walk outdoors. Sensory Adventure indoors lasts about 30 minutes, outdoors includes a 10-15 minute introduction inside and a 30-min hike outside.
1st - 5th Grade
Pond Study - leeches and backswimmers, tadpoles and snails, these are just a few of the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit the pond. Depending on water levels at the pond and group size, we may head out to the pond to scoop with nets (April-May) or we can also do an alternative indoor pond program where we investigate some pre-caught pond creatures up close and personal. Ecosystems, aquatic food chains, adaptations, and water quality just a few of the lessons that pond inhabitants can teach us. We recommend having several adults along for younger students, especially if we will be scooping outside, and be prepared to get a little muddy.
Nature's Adaptations - adaptations are the tools that allow plants and animals to survive, and they are all around us if you know what to look for. From bushy tails to webbed feet, from pretending to be a stick to playing dead, the countless adaptations of living things are sure to delight and amaze.
Build Your Own Habitat - what makes a good habitat? There's no better way to learn than by building one yourself! Students will create a small terrarium with a pill bug, millipede or other small, harmless creature to take home. Be sure to pre-warn parents, teachers, and other adult helpers that students will be bringing home a harmless living creature! Creatures can go home with students, be kept in the classroom for further study, or released back into the wild at school or at home.
Nocturnal Animals - spooky and mysterious, or merely strange and curious, find out how the creatures of the night go about their business and survive in a world of darkness.
Animals in Winter - they don't have grocery stores and heated houses, but wild animals still manage to survive in the cold and snow. Learn about some of their amazing adaptations and see what lessons humans can learn about staying warm during the coldest time of year.
Pioneers and Plants - for pioneer children, knowing the names and uses of the plants around them was essential to their survival. Rather than running to the nearest shopping center, food, medicine, clothing, and other basic needs were obtained directly from the land around them. Students will become pioneers as they learn to look at the forest with an eye for survival. (Since this topic is an outdoor hike, we recommend choosing topics other than "seasonal hike" if you will be doing more than one topic).
Aquatic Animal Adaptations - snorkels and goggles, flippers and fins, explore the many fascinating ways animals have adapted to survive in underwater environments.
3rd - 5th Grade
Tree Identification - this class will separate the opposite from the alternate, and the simple from the compound as we learn the basics of tree identification. Mainly indoors with a short walk outside. Recommended for May – October for leaf identification. Winter tree, bud and bark identification is also available.
Water Olympics - students will put water through its paces as they attempt to make paper clips float and see just how much water will stick to a penny. Learn how the weirdness of water makes life as we know it possible.
Incredible Journey - students will become water molecules and create a bracelet representing their travels as they journey through the water cycle.
Wonder of Plants – Plants are vital to our survival in countless ways, and we eat them every day. How often do we stop to give them a closer look? From acorns to pine needles, celery to carrots, the wonders of plants are all around us. We will review the six basic parts of a plant and look at some real life examples and amazing adaptations.
Intro to Geology - What is the difference between a rock and a mineral? How are fossils formed? In this class, we will explore these questions and learn about the three main types of rock and the cycle that changes them. We will also discuss erosion as well as other forces that shape the world we live in.
Most programs can be adapted for older students, and specialized program topics may be available - please call for more information!
Birds of Prey - Have you ever glared at a hawk up close or hooted like an owl? Students will meet several resident permanently injured birds of prey up close while learning about their individual behaviors, eating habits, conservation, and more.
Pre-K – 1st Grade
What Makes a Bird a Bird - How do you know a bird is a bird? What do birds have that other animals don't? Students will learn the basic characteristics of birds and go on a short hike to find birds in trees, the sky, on the water, and/or at the feeders.
K & Up
Beginning Bird ID - Have you ever wondered what bird is in the sky, in the tree, or even your own backyard? Learn how to identify birds by shape, color, size, habitat, sound, and more! Students will go on a hike to learn how to use binoculars and what to look for or hear to help identify birds.
1st & up
Bird Habitats and Nests - Where do birds live and why? Students will learn what makes a habitat, different nests that birds make and/or use, and what birds are found in what habitats and why. Students will go on a hike and learn how to use binoculars, look for nests, and look for birds in the many habitats within the park.
Beaks and Feet, Bird Adaptations - Why do some birds have a long, pointed beak while others have a tiny, curved beak? Can an eagle swim with sharp curved talons or a duck catch its food with its webbed feet? While on a hike, students will learn how bird beaks and feet are used like tools to help them thrive and survive.
3rd – 5th Grade
Whooo Goes There??? - Is it scat or regurgitation? Students will learn all about owls, their behaviors, adaptations, and more. They will dissect owl pellets and investigate what owls eat to understand how scientists learn more about them. Note: 1 pellet per 2 students.
Flight & Migration - Why do some birds go south for the winter? How far does a hummingbird migrate? When do Sandhill Cranes fly over? Students will learn the migration paths and why birds fly the way they do. They will also go on a hike to find birds and discover why some birds migrate and some do not.
When you call to schedule, please have the following information handy:
date you are interested in coming, along with a few alternate dates in case that day is full. Due to the high demand for programs, we are unable to "hold spots" or schedule tentative dates.
start time (we can begin programs as early as 10am) and time you would need to be getting on the bus to leave.
program topic(s) (see below)
estimated number of students
estimated number of adults (we ask that you bring at least one adult per 10 students)
name and contact information
whether or not you will be needing an outdoor shelter for lunch in the park (see below)
The Earth Discovery Center classrooms can handle a maximum of 40 students each. The Exhibit Hall area can seat up to 70 students + adults and teachers for groups that would like to stay together for a single program topic; however, we recommend breaking into smaller group sizes for a more hands-on experience, and some program topics may require groups of 40 or less at a time. We can run 3 program topics simultaneously, allowing us to comfortably accommodate groups of up to 120 students at a time.
*Due to limited staffing for 2014, our maximum group size at the Earth Discovery Center is 120 students at a time and three program topics including a volunteer-led outdoor hike.
Program sessions range from 30-40 minutes, depending on topic and the age and number of students.
The Ornithology Center classroom can accommodate a maximum of approximately 30 students at a time. Groups of 60 students can be divided into indoor and outdoor sessions, and larger groups may be possible depending on staff availability.
Please bring at least one adult for every 10 students. If you are unable to provide enough adults, please let us know ahead of time as this may affect the organization of your program (i.e. larger hiking groups).
More adults are welcome to come, although if there are large numbers of adults they may need to wait outside some of the smaller classrooms. Please make sure parents and other adults are aware of good behavior during the field trip (set a good example to the students by paying attention, no talking on cell phones during the program, etc.) and are prepared to dress for the weather and hike on the trails if outdoor experiences are included in your program.
We recommend scheduling your program so that your students eat lunch near their regular time. Field trips can work up an appetite, and hungry students can have difficulty focusing on their program topic! Let us know at the time of registration if you would like to reserve a shelter for your group:
The Earth Discovery Center has an Octagon Shelter just outside the parking lot with picnic tables for up to 100 students (there are several other picnic tables in the area as well, or you can bring tarps and blankets for additional places for students). Sinks and bathrooms are available nearby at the EDC; however, there is no playground nearby.
The Mount Pleasant Picnic Area is also available for groups with registered programs at the EDC, and has a covered picnic shelter and tables, a playground, and a Port-O-Let type restroom facility. Mount Pleasant is not within practical hiking distance for most groups, so you will need to have bus or car transportation for your group to and from the picnic site. We recommend allowing 60 minutes for lunch at a shelter to allow for travel time.
Shelter H is available for groups that have registered programs at the Ornithology Center, but may also be available for EDC groups. Availability may not be known until shortly before your program; please call to check a day or so before your program if you would prefer to use Shelter H. Shelter H has a covered picnic shelter and tables, a playground within short walking distance, and flush toilets and sinks (you may wish to bring your own soap for hand washing).
Program cost is $4/student for a single topic session of 30-60 minutes (group size of less than 40 at a time at the EDC for most topics, or 30 at a time at the OC), or $5/student for two topic sessions of 30-40 minutes (see below for field trip examples), $7/student for three topic sessions and $10/student for four topic sessions. For groups of 75 students or more, we offer a special discounted rate of $5/student for three to four topics (availability may vary due to staffing). There is no charge for teachers or adult helpers (we ask for at least one adult per 10 students). Discounted rates are available to schools with 40% or more of students on free or reduced lunch.
Small groups: If you have a group of less than 10 students, the minimum program fee is $50. Mornings during our spring and fall "busy season" are generally reserved for groups of 50 students or more. Smaller groups may still schedule programs in the afternoons or weekends during busy season, depending on space and staff availability.
Payment may be made on the day of the program by cash, check (made out to Indy Parks), or MasterCard or VISA, or schools may also pay by purchase order. Program fee includes admission into Eagle Creek Park and use of a shelter picnic area (please schedule picnic area at time of registration).
The Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS) has a fund available to provide financial assistance to student and youth groups for field trips to nature sites. The money is intended to help with transportation costs and/or naturalist fees where no funds exist, as well as promote youth initiated projects/activities that connect kids with nature. The fund is available for any Indiana school/youth group, application is online and can be done at anytime, and response is generally within two weeks. INPAWS is especially interested in providing youth with the least access to the natural world this opportunity. To find out more or to apply, please visit the INPAWS website at Letha's Youth Outdoors Fund
Please notify us as soon as possible if you need to cancel your program or would like to try to reschedule for a different date. Programs cancelled with less than one week notice for reasons other than inclement weather, or no-show groups (groups that do not call or otherwise notify us of the cancellation) may be charged up to one half their estimated program fee.
Indiana weather can be extremely unpredictable - we've had warm, gorgeous, sunny days in November and near-freezing windy days in May, so be sure to check the forecast before your field trip! We generally only cancel programs if the weather is dangerous: thunder and lightening, tornado watches and warnings, extremely high winds, icy or dangerous driving conditions, etc. We can still go outside even if it is raining or cold, and we strongly encourage school groups to make sure their students are dressed for the weather. For students who are used to rushing from the bus to the school and home again without spending any significant time out of doors, learning to watch the weather forecast and dress appropriately can be an important part of the field trip experience. Remember, there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!
Some things we've learned over the years:
large trash bags make great emergency rain gear!
if teachers and parents are excited and having fun, suddenly the "bad" weather becomes an exciting adventure in the rain.
because of the reservoir, we can get strong winds and colder temperatures than you find in town, so if in doubt, dress warmer (you can always remove a layer or two).
64% of parent helpers and 39% of teachers "didn't know they were going to be outside" for the field trip.
it can be raining on one side of the city and dry and sunny on the other at the same time.
high heels are kind of hard to hike in, but it can be done!
Above all, we want students to have a positive field trip experience, which is difficult to do if they are cold, wet, and uncomfortable. If students are not appropriately dressed, we can often provide alternative indoor programming depending on the size and age of the group, or we can do our best to find an alternative open day to reschedule (be aware that this may be difficult to do in spring or fall).
Please note - these are only possible examples of field trip arrangements! Field trips may be adjusted due to class size or adult ratios, staff availability, requirements of specific program topics, and group interest.
Larger groups can also do other activities in the park on their own (picnic, hike, teacher led activities) and rotate through a program at the EDC or OC in smaller groups. Keep in mind hiking distances and times between major facilities in the park (playgrounds, shelters, between the EDC & OC) are not practical for most large groups and will usually require bus transportation - we recommend talking to a park naturalist for advice if you have any questions.