Andy McKee and the Zoology Zone Science Center: Hands-On Learning

In this episode of the Kanawha Valley Hustlers, I am excited to meet with Andy McKee, the founder of the Zoology Zone Science Center, here in Valley Park. The Zoology Zone started as a reptile and amphibian rescue center, and it’s now an educational facility for families. All the animals here are rescued and rehabilitated, and we get to learn about their science and their rescue stories.

Andy explains that his love for reptiles and amphibians began with his parents, who were both educators. His father started the first herpetology program in 1986. Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians, and Andy followed in his father’s footsteps by starting his own herpetology program while teaching science. This passion eventually led to the creation of the Zoology Zone.

After serving in the military and working in law enforcement, Andy returned to teaching. He’s currently preparing to teach high school science next year while running the Zoology Zone. The center is growing, thanks to a dedicated staff and a supportive community. Andy envisions further growth and development, driven by a mission to serve and involve the community.

Recently, the Zoology Zone announced a Valley Con, a pop culture convention and fundraiser. They are also planning an alligator exhibit that will transform the front yard into a swamp-like Everglades exhibit. Over the next five years, they plan to invest over $4.5 million through various funding sources to enhance the center.

Starting and running the Zoology Zone hasn’t been easy. As a nonprofit organization, it relies heavily on community support and donations. Andy shares the challenges of managing a growing organization with limited resources, often wearing multiple hats to keep things running. Despite these challenges, the center is now able to support its day-to-day operations, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the staff.

The Zoology Zone is located inside Valley Park, right beside the wave pool. It’s an ideal location, surrounded by nature and equipped with facilities like a giant playground and an extensive trail system. This setting aligns perfectly with the center’s mission to inspire wildlife and environmental conservation through hands-on, immersive education. They utilize both their indoor and outdoor spaces to create an engaging learning environment.

Andy believes that kids today are somewhat disconnected from nature, largely due to the prevalence of screens and technology. The center aims to bridge this gap by offering guided nature hikes and other activities that encourage kids and adults to appreciate and engage with nature. There are significant mental health benefits to spending time in nature, and the Zoology Zone strives to foster a renewed sense of connection to the environment.

Hosting events like birthday parties at the center is particularly rewarding. Seeing kids touch and learn about animals they’ve never seen before is a memorable experience. Hands-on, immersive education is at the heart of what the Zoology Zone does. Andy uses his own learning style, which is visually driven, to create educational experiences that resonate with kids. He emphasizes the importance of moving beyond traditional classroom learning to interactive and practical applications.

As we wrap up our conversation, Andy highlights the variety of activities available at the Zoology Zone. Visitors can interact with animals, engage in arts and crafts, play with a Lego wall and marble maze, and enjoy the park’s playground. The center promotes “accidental learning,” where kids have fun and learn something new without even realizing it.

Meeting Andy and learning about the Zoology Zone has been inspiring. His dedication to education, conservation, and community is evident in every aspect of the center. The Zoology Zone is a place where families can spend an entire day exploring, learning, and having fun. I leave feeling optimistic about the future of this incredible community resource.

Learn more at https://zoologyzone.org/

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