EcoAdventures in Millersville

EcoAdventures3WBy Regina Verow

On National Geographic’s “Dangerous Encounters with Dr. Brady Barr,” world-renowned herpetologist and Anne Arundel County resident Brady Barr interacts with some of the planet’s wildest creatures. Now kids can join Barr for some amazing wild animal experiences right in Millersville, MD.

At the new EcoAdventures founded by Barr’s wife, Mei Len Sanchez-Barr, kids can hang out with a 20-foot, reticulated python, see scorpions up close, pet an American alligator and learn about environmental stewardship. EcoAdventures promotes positive interaction with the natural world while inspiring families to make a difference for the planet.

Tucked away in an unassuming building in a Millersville business park, EcoAdventures is a hands-on educational center that allows families to experience exotic and local animals up close and learn about conservation of natural habitats. It offers a wide range of interactive experiences from drop-in events and classes to after-school programming to birthday parties to training for teachers.

Sanchez-Barr founded the company several years ago and started offering classes and camps out of the Severna Park Community EcoAdventuresBarrWCenter and Kinderfarm Park. The programs featured the live, exotic creatures she and Barr kept in the basement of their Anne Arundel County home. As the business grew, it became time to move the animals and the center’s offerings into a bigger, permanent space. Last December, EcoAdventures opened its doors in Millersville.

The Barrs believe passionately that creative, positive and personal experiences with wildlife can inspire people to make a difference for the planet. Brady Barr is proof of that.

“I grew up in Indiana and was lucky to have dedicated educators and parents who championed an interactive classroom,” he says. He credits the environmental field trips he took in school and interacting with animals such as rabbits and turtles in the classroom as fueling his interest in the field.

Known as the leading herpetologist in the world, Barr was the first person to capture and study all 23 species of crocodilians in the wild. He has also hosted over 100 wildlife documentaries for the National Geographic channel and appeared on such shows as Oprah, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The View. He’s also a master storyteller and author. Now he has two elementary-aged children who are experiencing more interaction with animals than even he did growing up.

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EcoAdventures is part zoo, part classroom.

“It’s very powerful to get up close and personal. It can change a child’s life,” Barr explains. He tells the story of one boy who asked how many toes a turtle had. Barr decided he had two options: answer the question quickly and move on, or give the boy a chance to find out for himself. After the pair climbed into the rainforest river enclosure, Barr securely held the large snapping turtle and the boy counted toes.

“He will never forget that experience,” Barr says. “It’s one thing to read about something or see a picture. It’s another thing to line kids up and have them hold a 20-foot python.”

For Barr, a lot of the energy behind EcoAdventures is about giving back and empowering kids.

“Kids can change the world,” he says. Throughout his career, Barr has asked kids for help with challenges he has faced. He estimates that 20 to 30 of the ideas he has implemented in his field research were generated by kids.

Barr once told a group of children how difficult it was to study crocodiles in the wild because they won’t let humans near them. One young boy suggested that a crocodile costume might allow Barr to get really close. Barr took that suggestion back to National Geographic and a custom croc costume was designed, allowing Barr to get closer to crocodiles in the wild.

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Sanchez-Barr says the best part of the venture for her is the opportunity to “see these kids be themselves and really enjoy their animal passions.”

Carson Brindgar, a rising ninth grader from Severna Park and budding herpetologist, started attending an EcoAdventures’ after-school program last winter.

“The first time I walked through the door, I couldn’t believe how awesome it was here,” he says. “They have animals, like a blue tongue skink, that I’d never seen in person before.”

Within three months, the staff at EcoAdventures asked him to become a junior assistant. Now he is learning how to handle and care for the animals and how to talk to people about conservation. He has spent the majority of his summer at the facility.

“I love it here,” Brindgar notes. “Every kid who walks in here has a smile on their face.”

EcoAdventures is located at 216 Najoles Road, Suite 600, Millersville. Visit EcoAdventures website  to learn more about its offerings and to sign up for events.

Photos courtesy of EcoAdventures