Archive for the 'Environment' Category

Interpreter’s Notes – Geology Rocks!


Psychologist C.K. Jung said, “A man is not a thing, but a drama.”  Well, a rock is not a thing, but a drama – only existing on the vast scale of geological time.  Pick one up sometime, any rock, and you’ll be holding something that contains the entire periodic table, every known element in the universe.  Is it a metamorphic or sedimentary rock in an igneous environment?  How did it get there?  What’s its story?  They all have a story, the rocks under our feet and all around us, made up of the 5,000 or so substances of the mineral world that make up 90% of the mass and volume of the Earth. 

Geology, simplified, is the study of the Earth’s inorganic substances, its processes and the planet’s history.  But that definition does no justice to this elegant, almost metaphysical science.  Geology reflects the universal axiom of Hermetic philosophy: As above, so below, as displayed by the fact that the mineral substances in the planets and stars above are exactly the same ones inside our bodies and in the ground beneath us (and they are formed in exactly the same way).  One of geology’s major concepts, fromulated by James Hutton in the 18th Century, is called Uniformitarianism, the stipulation that all the laws of the universe have been the same since the beginning of the universe.  To put it spiritually and more poetically, “There is nothing new under the Sun.”  This idea begat today’s science, influencing everything from Darwin’s thinking to modern physics, prodding the concept of the universe as a “closed” system – all the matter and energy in the universe has existed since the beginning of the universe, and there is only a transfer from one state to another.  In other words, matter cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed.  Geology is the great unifying science of the world, the eye of the needle all other sciences do, at some point and in some way, pass thru – astronomy, art, linguistics, paleontology, physics, biology, philosophy, medicine, chemistry, religion, agriculture, anthropology, sociology, meterology, geography, mathematics, climatology, economics … on and on goes the list.

Cape Ann is an extraordinary geological area and Halibut Point State Park is a great place to see that for yourself.  Here are some surprising facts about the geology of Cape Ann: Of the 5000 or so mineral substances that make up the vast majority of the mass and volume of the Earth, two, Annite and Danalite, were discovered on and primarily exist around Cape Ann.  Annite, named after Cape Ann, was first identified in Rockport.  You can learn more about Annite here.  Danalite, named after geology professor J.D. Dana, was initially identified at a Rockport Granite Company quarry in the 19th century.  This link gives you more information about Danalite and this Wikipedia excerpt will tell you more about Professor Dana, one of the foremost figures in the history of geology.

But that’s far from the end of the surprising facts about the geology of Cape Ann.  Here’s something many are astonished to learn:  Cape Ann is considered the third most active geological area in the United States.  The most active geological area is the San Andreas fault, we all know about that one; the second is the New Madrid fault in Missouri, where the largest known earthquake that has happened since Europeans settled the continent occured in 1800.  It was an earthquake so massive that the Mississippi River ran backwards for almost an entire day!  After those two areas comes Cape Ann.  The largest earthquake known to have taken place in New England  happened on Cape Ann in 1755.  That large quake, knocking down walls and chimneys of over a hundred buildings in Boston, was felt from Nova Scotia to South Carolina and over five hundred miles east at sea.  You can take a look at this document on file at the Massachusetts Historical Society to find out more about an event that profoundly affected the New England populace, as evidenced by the no fewer than twenty-seven sermons, poems, and accounts published in the following months featuring, to quote the Massachusetts Historical Society, “such titles Earthquakes the Works of God and Tokens of his Just Displeasure (by Thomas Prince) and The Duty of a People, Under Dark Providences, or Symptoms of Approaching Evils, to Prepare to Meet their God (by Eliphalet Williams).” 

If you’d like even more evidence of how geologically active Cape Ann is, check out this story from USA Weekend magazine, or this one from the Boston Globe, or have a look at this article in American Heritage.  If you want to see a charting of some of the long list of earthquakes that have happened on and around Cape Ann, just go here.  Better yet, click on this extraordinary map, “Earthquakes In and Near the Northeastern United States, 1638-1998” from the US Geological Survey.  If you go to websites such as Microsoft TerraServer or Google Earth you can see some of the unique features of Cape Ann’s geology.  One of them you’ll notice is that the land beneath the region’s feet is so riddled with faults that it looks like a cracked windshield!  Just what exactly makes Cape Ann’s geology so active and so noteworthy?  That’s a longer story than a version of Notes should detail, but some clues are contained in the photographs published below this posting’s heading.  Geology is a science best savored in the field, away from the classroom and all that Godwana-Laurentia-Pangaea/continental rifting/plate tectonics talk we initially experience in school when exposed to the subject.  Yes, there’s a place for all that, but there’s so much to see around us to spur curiosity in this profound, graceful science and Halibut Point is a spectacular place to experience it.

The last version of Interpreter’s Notes promised an explanation of how Cape Ann granite achieved its unique 160lbs. per cubic foot density.  Briefly – at the end of the last great Ice Age, about 15,000 years ago, retreating glacier scraped many millions of years of sedimentary rock off the massive bedrock of granite that today makes up most of Cape Ann.  The bedrock granite, under the pressure of sedimentary rock for so long, became evern more compressed than it was, and once the glacier scraped the surface sedimentary rock away, it left the granite close to the surface.  There may be granite of similar of greater density elsewhere, but most of it, never having had the benefit of such a staggering force of as a mile high mountain of ice to bring it near the surface, remains far under the ground where it cannot be mined.  If you look above at the center photograph under this posting’s heading you can clearly see the striations on the smoothed boulder, tracking north/northwest to south/southwest that was made by the retreating glacier.  Such evident examples of the last Ice Age exist all over Halibut Point, especially in the park’s “scablands” – the still existing grassy balds not far from the Babson Farm Quarry.        

In Herman and Nina Schneider’s classic, Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth: A First Book About Geology the author’s do a remarkable job of connecting the subject to their reader: “The fresh, crisp apple that you may eat today is as old as the hills.  And when you eat it, a tiny bit of those hills become you … Just think of what that apple may have been before it became part of you!  Once it may have been in the autumn leaves that fell and crumbled into the soil near the sprout of an apple tree.  Years before it may have been in the shell of a robin’s egg.  And once it may have been a part of a stalactite in some dark underground cavern.  Perhaps for a short while it flew high above the earth in a butterfly’s wing.  Long ago it may have been in a kernel of corn planted by some ancient people.  Today, when you eat that apple, these parts of the earth become part of you who are part of the world.”    

How wonderfully they state it!


Interpreter’s Notes – The Atlantic Path


In the early years of European settlement of America residence along the coastline was considered appropriate only for the more economically disadvantaged among the community.  Needless to point out, things have certainly changed.  Today we’re all quite aware of the ever increasing material value of waterfront property.  Hand-in-hand with that truth goes a number of issues relating to public access of the coastal areas that belong to us all.  It’s estimated that in New England the public has easy access only to about half of the coastal topography that belongs to everyone.  In Massachusetts, the laws governing public access to coastal lands is even more restrictive than in other states with shorelines.  In 1647 the Massachusetts Bay Colony Ordinances moved the line between public and private property to the low water mark, a situation which still prevails and is in reverse of what exists in most states today.  In Massachusetts, the intertidal area between the low and high water mark is presumed to belong to the waterfront property owner.  In other words, the coastal property owner is considered the owner of the coastal area to the low tide mark.  The original intent in creating these “private tidelands” during the Colonial era was to facilitate private wharf construction and economic development.  Although the 1647 Colonial Ordinance transferred ownership of intertidal flats from public to private, it did not relinquish all property rights held in trust by the state.  It did not give up public rights to the waters above the land and also preserved the right for the public to continue to use private tidelands for the purposes of fishing, fowling and navigation.  Over time, with many new business and recreational activities the public enjoys, courts have had to step in to interpret the spirit of the initial Colonial Ordinance.  In 1991, Massachusetts passed a special act that requires a public on foot free right-of-passage along the shore between the low and high tide line subject to certain limitations.  Perhaps not surprisingly, waterfront property landowners had a frosty response to this new law, even with being absolved of liability from the results of the public’s access under the Massachusetts Recreational Use Law.  Today, even with this more recent legislation, public access to waterfront areas remains a sometimes contentious issue in the state, with the public unaware of their rights or not aware of how they can gain access to a shoreline that belongs to all. However, due in part to the efforts of the town of Rockport, the public can find almost two miles of unfettered coastal access that is called The Atlantic Path.  The nearly two miles of public coastline is, at its most informal definition, made up of three public resources – The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation at Halibut Point State Park, the abutting acres belonging to Trustees of Reservations, and the town of Rockport’s land next to it.  Although only the Rockport coast section is officially designated as The Atlantic Path and is partly called Sea Rocks, the land belonging to the public stretches from the northwest corner of Halibut Point State Park all the way to Pigeon Cove.  If you consider exploring The Atlantic Path, there are a couple of things you should know – the Path is not really a “path” per se; although some areas of it are a defined path, the route encompasses a bouldery shore, some clambering around jagged rocks by privately owned property as well as traveling through seaside thickets.  However, the reward is great for those embarking upon the trek – hikers will encounter numerous and diverse flora & fauna, wonderful tidepools and some of the most extraordinary geology found on Cape Ann.  (Including a sprawling, stunning pegmatitic formation you can see a bit of in the middle photo prefacing this version of Interpreter’s Notes – for more on pegmatites and their significance go here.)  Another factor to consider if considering an exploration of the path is where and how to access it.  Many points of access are narrow footpaths located on residential streets with limited or no parking for non-residents.  Those whom explore The Atlantic Path often find the best way to gain access to the area is to park at the Halibut Point parking lot and either head into the park and down to the shore from there or walk down to the end of Gott Ave. and onto the Trustees Path.  Several years ago Halibut Point initiated an Atlantic Path program that explores this wonderful shore.  The program, usually featuring a guest educator or two as well as park personnel, is scheduled monthly in June, July and August.  In 2009, Halibut Point’s first Atlantic Path program will be on Saturday, June 6th at 2:00pm.  Please check our monthly program schedules as they are are posted for details and dates for July & August.  If you plan on attending one of the park’s Atlantic Path programs there are some things to consider: remember that the path is sometimes challenging, with it often necessary to climb around boulders; the program is a solid three hours in length with no amenities once we are out there; and frequent bramble, thicket and poison ivy leave us recommending attendees do not wear shorts.  We hope you’ll attend an Atlantic Path program at Halibut Point State Park or find some time to enjoy the path on your own.  If you’d prefer to explore Rockport’s Atlantic Path on your own, you can find a map listing some path access points here.  As a member of  Rockport’s Right-of-Way Committee once said, “The best way to insure the posterity of your public lands is to use them.”

Interpreter’s Notes – The Center for Wildlife, Cape Neddick, Maine

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Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dwell in possibility.

Emily Dickinson 

Decked out in t-shirts as blue as the Maine sky over Chase’s Pond that afternoon, staff and volunteers bustled around us and up ahead as we made our way from the street onto the grounds.  All the excitement was over the 2009 “Wild About Our Community” event at the Center for Wildlife, Cape Neddick, Maine.  The CFW, one of the largest animal rehabilitation facilities in New England, is becoming an increasingly significant education partner with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation due to the extraordinary and varied off-site wildlife learning opportunities they bring to the region.  Their invitation to attend on this day was my first visit to their location.    

I had the pleasure of encountering my first representative from the Center’s considerable number of sponsors and partners when I met Dan Gardoqui, Founder & Director of White Pine Programs (, a nonprofit educational organization providing nature based programs for all ages.  “The area around the home that kids are allowed to wander has shrunk to less than 10% of what it was in 1970,” Dan informed me.  “As a result, lots of children today can’t identify an oak tree or a grasshopper,” he continued.  While I listened, there was the same quiet passion in his tone and directness in his gaze that I witnessed in Richard Louv when he spoke about his book, Last Child in the Woods.  After looking over White Pine’s brochure detailing their core programs I had a closer look around me and came away with an inkling that the Center for Wildlife, its partners and sponsors all had something special in common and I set out to learn more what that was.

“Have you been to Mt. Agamenticus lately?” Robin Kerr inquired.  I had to admit it was a long time since I had, though it is nearly always visible from the Overlook at Halibut Point, looming over  the shore as one of the highest elevations along the East Coast so near  the sea.  “We can usually always see it from the park.  On the right winter’s day we can even make out the tower,” was the best I could come up with for a recent experience with the Big A.   Robin, the Conservation Coordinator for the Mt. Agamenticus Conservation Region ( for the past six years stood by her organization’s display and removed her sunglasses to connect with me eye-to-eye:  “ Things have changed since back then” she said, able to name eight current conservation partners.  She explained the work and stewardship challenges of maintaining the acres for watershed, flora and fauna conservation as well as for recreation purposes, each one alone a daunting challenge for any conservator.  More importantly, as she let me know about MACR’s successes and going-forward plans I felt a charge in her voice as strong as a pelting northeast rain powerful enough to turn the mountain’s granite to granola.  “This mountain rules!” the group’s trail guide says.  And there on Mountain Road in the shadow of Agamenticus  I met an advocate who did the same.

 The dirt pathway framed by pines, oaks and maples curved to the right where I stopped at the outside Turtle House with a number of others and observed the box and painted turtles residing at the Center for Wildlife.  The young woman offering us a learning opportunity gently rolled her palm along the carapace of the creature she held and then moved a finger along its marginal scutes.  “They shed along these edges,” she indicated, “which are made of keratin, just like your fingernails.”

Adjacent to the presentation stood the Center for Wildlife’s office.  I paused in front of the modest sculpted pond prefacing the entrance, squinting ahead at the sign to the side of the door.  “Animal Intake” were the important words.  Even amidst the hubbub of the day I felt a zone of serenity, the recuperative hush experienced before approaching an important medical unit.  RescueRehabilitateRelease.  Stand here at you’ll know down to your core what the Center for Wildlife is all about. 

A few feet away I met Josh Baston of ReVision Energy ( I mentioned that at Halibut Point we’ve been using solar, photovoltaic and geothermal renewable energy resources since the mid 1990’s and Josh, sans any further information, was able to correctly detail the features of our older technology.  He pointed at a solar panel ahead of us on the roof of the CFW office and outlined the difference between that installation and the one we had at our site.  “ReVision Energy has installed more than half of all solar energy systems in Maine over the past few years,” he told me.  I wasn’t surprised.  

The Seacoast Science Center (  Great Works Regional Land Trust ( BioDiversity Research Institute  ( York County Audubon Society( – I met representatives from them all and even more organizations, leaving me to stop at the end of presentation row, have a look back and take stock at what I was witnessing.  I could hear storyteller Shawn Middleton, see Ed & Ken so genially scooping ice cream and families grabbing some pizza.  Scanning the day’s program, a quick count listed nearly fifty partners, sponsors and donors participating in this event. 

“Building a sustainable future for wildlife” – those are words I’ve seen CFW use more than once.  And that’s when I realized what everyone at “Wild About Our Community” had in common – they were pioneers of a notion that there are better ways to live.  And for at least one day nobody had to make much effort to find them.

Hawks, falcons, owls, porcupines, opossums, bats, squirrels, woodchucks, muskrats, songbirds, ducks, geese, swans and more -up to 150 different species – I discovered the Center for Wildlife rehabilitates and sometimes permanently cares for as I visited their natural history area.  Among the series of spaced enclosures for the animals I met CFW Board member Dawn Dickinson while reading interpretive signage by the opossum’s residence.  “They did a great job, didn’t they?” Dawn smiled, explaining the materials, laminate and font on the paneling.  I smiled back; as an employee of the DCR Bureau of Interpretive Services I knew the level of passion necessary to embrace and be excited about the intricacies and subtleties of a public information display.   

I spent the rest of my visit to the Center for Wildlife in the natural history area watching a number of live-animal presentations by staff and volunteers spaced between a number of wild bird releases that children in the audience were invited to participate in.  Kristen Lamb, CFW Education and Outreach Director, took some time from a very busy day to stand beside me for a chat.  “What’s the most fulfilling part of what you do?” I asked her.  “Countering human impact on animals,” Kristen told me.  “Humans sometimes injure them … we care for them.”  I thought about what Kristen said as I took a look around me.  How many times had I seen an animal by the side of the road, bedraggled and hurt?  Or heard its cries in some nearby woods and thought it was some poor creature that hasn’t got a prayer?  Well, many of these animals do have a prayer in Cape Neddick, one the Center for Wildlife answers some 1600 times a year.  You can discover more about the Center for Wildlife here.

Martin Buber said, “An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”  That day at the Center for Wildlife, Cape Neddick, Maine, I met a community of incredibly caring people and felt the power of a great language spoken from the hearts of some fellow human beings.     

The Center for Wildlife, Cape Neddick, Maine will be back at Halibut Point State Park with more of their wildlife ambassadors for a Birds of Prey program on Saturday, September 26th at 1:00pm.  This FREE event is sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Friends of Halibut Point State Park.  You’re all invited to come and learn more about this wonderful organization.

August 2011 Programs & Events

The August 2011 schedule of special events at Halibut Point begins on Saturday, August 6 at 1:00pm with Nature Day – two back-to-back live animal programs featuring creatures seldom seen.  It starts with Nocturnal  Mammals with The Center for Wildlife from Cape Neddick, Maine.  The Center, one of the largest wildlife rehabilitation facilities in New England, is bringing along some of their wildlife ambassadors who will demonstrate the advantages and challenges of nocturnal life and reveal their unique adaptations to life in the dark.   Following Nocturnal Mammals at 3:00pm Richard Wolniewicz of Mass. Audubon is offering Essex County Amphibians and bringing along newts, frogs, toads salamanders and more.  Special events for the weekend of August 6-7 continue on Sunday the 7th at 2:00pm with the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club offering The Sun: Exploring Our Nearest Star, a safe solar viewing program featuring some special activities ans NASA handouts.

The Atlantic Path, a three-hour trek along Rockport’s resplendent public coastline, is being offered on the Sundays of August 14 & 28 from 1-4:00pm.  Please be advised – this hike entails negotiating some challenging terrain.  Also consider not wearing shorts, bringing water and some insect repellent of choice.

On Sunday, August 21 at 8:00am Peter Van Demark is hosting the monthly Birding for Beginners at Halibut Point.  As usual, meet peter in the parking lot.

Shakespeare in the Park with the Rebel Shakespeare Company is returning to Halibut Point on Saturday, August 27 at 5:00pm with The Taming of the Shrew.  Bring a blanket or chair and a picnic for this  production overlooking the former Babson Farm quarry.

Standard programs at Halibut Point in August 2011 is the Quarry Tour on Saturdays at 10:00am.  The Military History of Halibut Point is offered on the Thursdays of August 4 & 18 at 12:00pm and Tidepools will be on Thursday, August 25 at 1:00pm and on Friday the 26th at 2:00pm.  Also in August, Reading the Granite Landscape, a natural history of granite told via geology, plant communities, environmental forces, human use and more is being offered on the Mondays of August 8, 15 & 22 at 10:00am.  For a flyer you can download describing Halibut Point’s Augsut 2011 schedule, click here.

July 2011 Programs & Events

Halibut Point State Park is featuring a large number of special events in July, beginning with The Atlantic Path on Sunday, July 3rd (and also on Sunday the 24th, both dates from 1-4:00pm).  This program, a three-hour trek along Rockport’s resplendent public coastline, entails negotiaiting some challenging terrain, including some bouldering, stretches of significant poison ivy, overgrown thicket and muddy spots but the payoff is great – interesting history, tidepools, a varies shoreline and very interesting geology.  Meet at the park’s Visitors Center, don’t wear shorts, and bring water and sunscreen.  Best for ages twelve and up.  On Friday, July 8th from 7-10pm Halibut Point is offering Stargazing in conjunction with the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club.  Bring your telescope and if you don’t have one there will be plenty on hand.  And on Saturday, July 9 at 2:00pm Terry Dutton of D & D Masonry will be at the park with a Modern Stonecutting program demonstrating today’s methods and equipment used in fashioning stonework.  This program takes place outside Halibut Point’s Visitors Center.  Saturday, July 16th at 2:00pm brings Snakes of Massachusetts and the World with Rick Roth and the Cape Ann Vernal Pond Team.  This very popular program features some thirty live snakes!  Sunday, July 17th at 3:00pm is a Sunday Sounds concert of classic hits with Midlife Crisis.  Both Snakes of Massachusetts and the World and Sunday Sounds are brought to you by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Friends of Halibut Point State Park.  And on Satruday, July 23rd at 5;00pm the third season of Shakespeare in the Park with the Rebel Shakespeare Company gets underway with Macbeth.

Standard park programs at Halibut Point in July are the Quarry Tour on the Saturdays of July 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd at 10:00am.  Meeting at the Visitors Center, this program features a video, granite-splitting demonstration and tour of the former Babson Farm Quarry.  The Military History of Halibut Point is offered on Mondays at 12:00pm.  Encompassing almost two centuries of military history at Halibut Point, the program also includes a climb to the top of the five-story artillery fire control tower.   It’ll be down to the rocky shore for some inter-tidal exploration with Tidepools on Thursday, July 7th at 10:00am, Thursday, July 21st at 10:00am, Friday, July 22nd at 10:00am and Thursday, July 28th at 3:00pm.  And July’s Birding for Beginners with Peter Van Demark will be on Sunday, July 17th at 8:00am – meet Peter in the parking lot.   A July schedule you can download is available here.

June 2011 Programs & Events

Special programs at Halibut Point State in June begin on Wednesday, June 1st with Keep Moving! a walking program for seniors sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  To get your fitness club involved, call 617-624-5972.  On Sunday, June 5th at 1:00pm the park is featuring Reading the Granite LandscapeThis program details the natural history of granite tols via geology, plant communities and succession. environmental forces and human use.  Another special program for June is the latest trek of The Atlantic Path.  A three-hour trek along Rockport’s resplendent public coastline, we advise that this hike entails negotiation some challenging terrain.  The next Birding for Beginners is taking place on Sunday, June 19th at 8:00am.  Meet Peter van Demark in Halibut Point’s parking lot.  Also on Sunday, June 19th at 3:00pm is a Sunday Sounds concert with perennial park favorites Livin’ on Luck providing classic hits unplugged.  And on Monday, June 20th at noon Halibut Point is hosting the DCR Universal Access Team for a quarry ramble for those of all abilities.  To let them know you’ll be attending, give them a call at 413-545-5758.

Standard park programs for June are the Quarry Tour on Saturdays June 4th, 11th and 18th at 10:00am.  This 90 minute tour entails the showing of a video, a granite-splitting demonstration and a walk around the former Babson Farm Quarry.  The Military History of Halibut Point is being offered on the Mondays of June 13th, 20th and 27th at both noon and 6:00pm.  And costal exploration with Tidepools will take place on Thursday, June 2nd at 8:00am and Friday, June 3rd at 9:00am.  For a flyer you can download containing June 2011 Halibut Point State Park programs and events just click here.

May 2011 Programs & Events


In May, Halibut Point State Park’s Saturday morning Quarry Tour is offered on the 14th, 21st and 28th at 10:00am.  Meeting at the park’s Visitors Center at 10:00am, the program features a granite-cutting demonstration, the showing of a short film and a walking tour of the former Babson Farm Quarry.

At 1:00pm on Sunday May 15th and the 22nd The Military History of Halibut Point will take place inside the Visitors Center.  This program details the two centuries long military history of the site and entails a climb to the top of the park’s five story artillery fire-control tower. 

It’ll be down to the shore for some inter-tidal exploration with Tidepools  being offered on Monday, May 9th at 10:00am; Thursday, May 12th at 11:00am; Monday, May 23rd at 10:00am; Fridat, May 27th at 1:00pm and Monday, May 30th at 2:00pm.

Birding for Beginners with Peter Van Demark is Sunday, May 15th from 8-10:00am.  This May date usually features the peak of warbler viewing at the park. Meet Peter in the parking lot.

And on Sunday, May 29th from 1-4:00pm Halibut Point is offering The Atlantic Path.  Be warned: this is a three-hour trek from the park to the Emerson Inn and back over some quite challenging terrain … bouldering, thicket, slippery shore and more.  But the rewards are fantastic … significant history, some little explored shoreline and fantastic geology.  If you plan to attend,  consider NOT wearing shorts – stretches of poison ivy and thorny underbrush as well as potential biting nasties make it a good idea not to leave yourself too exposed.  Also be advised there are no amenities along the route.  This event meets at the Visitors Center.

For a downloadable flyer with May 2011 programs & events click here.