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Access Points: Chattahoochee Nature Center watershed exhibit

Lots of creative guesses on this week’s Access Point, but just a few of you knew it was a fish in the watershed exhibit at the Chattahoochee Nature Center’s new Discovery Center.

Scales on this fish are made from old CDs. AJC/ Jamie Gumbrecht.

Indeed, many recognized the fishy qualities of the photo, but you seemed convinced that it was the giant creature outside the Atlanta Fish Market. Others saw the CDs, and guessed everything from Hard Rock Cafe to AOL headquarters.

But it was commenter PJ who first mentioned the place — the new Discovery Center at the Chattahoochee Nature Center — and Smokey the Bandit who said it was the giant fish located there. Nice work!

This fellow isn’t just a fish, but a largemouth bass. If you’ve been fishing in Lake Lanier, you’ve caught one. He is one of about 13 animals made from repurposed household goods and on display in the new Discovery Center watershed exhibit.

Rope snake. AJC/Jamie Gumbrecht

Plenty of nature centers rely on taxidermy or clay animals to illustrate the outdoors. But nobody wanted the new Discovery Center to replace nature; the human-made version will never be as good. They envisioned something larger-than-life way to teach about the Chattahoochee River watershed. It had to be environmentally friendly for their new LEED-certified building, creative and engaging enough to help people remember what they learned before they stepped outside.

So the new center has some live animals — injured or non-releasable — and some obviously not-real animals. Consider our pal the largemouth bass. It can be “eye-glazing” to talk about how fish breath, Wildlife Director Kathryn Dudeck said, but the interactive buttons on the bass give a Vegas-style light show while showing how oxygen, water and debris move in to its oversized gills.

Viewmaster-and-mitt screech owl. AJC/Jamie Gumbrecht

And then there’s the Screech-owl. A live one is on view in the nature center, but there’s also this little guy, made from an old View-Master, a baseball glove and a beak from a thrift store macramé project.

The toy-built owl reinforces the key characteristics of the real owl — the small body, the big eyes — while getting imaginations going, and maintaining the “reduce, reuse, recycle” theme.

Some of these animals are tough to spot, camouflaged in their habitat, much like real animals. They were tough to build, too.

Jeff Grimes, the scenic services manager at 1220 Exhibits in Nashville, put most of them together during a few months of tinkering. A self-proclaimed pack rat, he went to his own stash of hinges, doorknobs and hardware for help. He became a regular at the thrift stores around his neighborhood.

“I became really familiar with the restocking schedules. I’d just go up and down the aisles of maybe four places, peruse everything they had,” he said. “I was open to seeing something that would inspire me.”

Golf clubs on this Blue Heron. AJC/Jamie Gumbrecht

Guitar picks became butterfly wings, a red shoe horn was a perfect cardinal tail, a bike helmet worked as a turtle shell and a mass of clothes pins — some 570 — built a beaver. His favorite is the Great Blue Heron; organizers originally wanted the smaller Green Heron, but as his junk pile grew, the parts that kept coming together looked more like the majestic blue-gray bird.

It’s perfect, says Dudeck, the wildlife director. An actual Blue Heron would require a large enclosure, an active pond, fish to hunt. This one can give visitors a close-up on its characteristics without all the fuss. (Fun fact: the same golf clubs that make up its legs provided parts for the bike helmet turtle, too.)

This isn’t how Grimes usually works. These days, he’s getting casts of soldiers’ faces, hands and feet to make exhibitions for a museum at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. But Grimes says he’s already gotten the highest possible compliment — photos from kids who went home and tried to make something themselves.

That’s the lesson that Dudeck hopes kids (and adults) are taking outside, too.

“You don’t have to learn all this in a book, you don’t have to sit through lectures,” Dudeck says. “You can walk through your watershed and take that knowledge back to your neighborhoods.”

Want to go? Chattahoochee Nature Center, 9135 Willeo Road, Roswell. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon- 5p.m. Sunday. Free for members and children ages 2 and younger, $5 for children ages 3-12, $6 for seniors, $8 for adults. No pets allowed. 770-992-2055, Chattnaturecenter.org.

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter @insideaccess.

Clothes pin beaver. So cute! AJC/Jamie Gumbrecht

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