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Great Falls Discovery Center
Great Falls Discovery Center
The Refuge's flagship cooperative cooperative visitor center, in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and a number of other partners, is located in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. The Great Falls Discovery Center (GFDC), located near the intersection of the major north-south interstate highway (I-91) and the major east-west road (Rte. 2), is conveniently located to draw families, school groups, other visitors, and tourists passing by. The site and building are wheelchair accessible. The location of a multipurpose biking/hiking path along the canal near the building, a fish ladder across the street, a fish research center nearby, and other nearby public lands will also draw visitors. The Service has helped protect a historically important American Indian site directly across the river from the GFDC. Local citizens and legislators hope that tourists drawn to the center will also help revitalize Turners Falls.

The Center is located in historic mill buildings purchased and renovated by DCR for $3,000,000 in the early 1990's. The Service received an $850,000 appropriation in 1998 to design and build exhibits. DCR also spent over $350,000 retrofitting the building to receive the exhibits. The Center is staffed by both the Refuge and DCR, and maintained by DCR. The other partner organizations (United States Geological Survey's Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Massachusetts Audubon Society, Northeast Generation, Friends of the GFDC, Hitchcock Center, and the Montague Economic and Industrial Development Corporation) assisted in planning and give programs at the site. back to top

The exhibits are a key component for delivering the Refuges's messages to watershed citizens — that watershed citizens' actions and choices greatly affect wildlife habitats and wise choices will conserve, protect and enhance the watershed's native species. The theme of the exhibits is "Our Shared Home". Major exhibits include: a wall with beautiful portraits of our plant and animal neighbors; a watershed model; an introductory video that explains what wildlife habitats are; beautiful life-size walk-through dioramas depicting the different wildlife habitats of the watershed and the different species found in each; text panels and interpretive walls with each diorama that reinforce key concepts regarding trade-offs in habitat resulting from human activities; three aquarium tanks and a video in a unified display interpreting habitat challenges for anadromous fish; a photo gallery showing pictures of agency personnel, volunteers and citizens "Working to Share Our Home"; and an exhibit that helps the visitor "Join In" by announcing upcoming events and volunteer opportunities sponsored by various partners. back to top

A variety of programs for different age groups and interests are offered during open hours and occasionally in the evenings. Check this website's Calendar of Events, or www.greatfallsdiscoverycenter.org for a schedule. back to top

Bike Path
Recently, a new bicycle path was opened that begins at Unity Park and passes by the Discovery Center as it follows the canal in Turners Falls into the Town of Deerfield. back to top

Fish Ladder
FirstLight Power Resources operates a fish ladder with a viewing window at the Turners Falls Dam. It is open Wednesday through Sunday during the fish migration season from mid-May until mid-June. back to top

Volunteer Opportunities and Friends Groups
The Friends of the Great Falls Discovery Center is a non-profit group whose mission is to: support and enhance the Great Falls Discovery Center and the Connecticut River Watershed; to educate the public about the unique features of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Connecticut River Greenway State Park; and to foster public use and enjoyment of the Center, the Park, and the Refuge. Their web site is www.greatfallsdiscoverycenter.org. back to top

The Great Falls Discovery Center is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. During the rest of the year the Center is open on Friday and Saturday. Hours may vary so check with the Center. Admission is free. Programs sponsored by the Refuge are free, but there may be a fee for programs offered by the Friends of the Great Falls Discovery Center or other partners. back to top

Take Interstate 91 to Exit 27 in Massachusetts. Take Route 2 East. Turn right at the second light and cross the bridge (into downtown Turners Falls). The Discovery Center is in the first building to the right. Parking is behind the second building on the right. back to top