Northern Virginia is growing in its conservation efforts and awareness of its natural surroundings. A recent visit to Broadlands Nature Center made us think about the importance of how we interact with our environment.
Broadlands Nature Center shares the building with the Broadlands HOA Complex. Having said that, the nature center is free and open to the public, regardless if you are a Broadlands resident or not. The nature center is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm and some Saturdays from 10 am to 2 pm. To avoid disappointment, call or email [email protected] for Saturday dates. I received confirmation that the center will be open the first three Saturdays in November and December of 2014. They generally host a family program the second Saturday of the month. The one hour program cost $5 per person and you can register online. This past month’s program was all about bats.
Inside, follow the small bridge and enter a world of wonder. On your right, stop by the information table where you will find the newsletter, information about upcoming events, and scavenger hunt bingo sheets to guide you through the workings of the nature center.
Your expedition takes you through the trunk of a great big tree leading to a gilded cage filled with a pair of white birds. Yes, you will see amphibians, reptiles and snakes, which are prominent at most centers. My favorite were the turtles whose habitat was fit for a king. You can step up to the turtles sunbathing under a heat lamp, relaxing by the fountain, or swimming in their spacious “pond.” There’s Swimmy, an 18 year old female Red Eared Slider Turtle and in another habitat is her pal, Franklin. Watch Falcor, the Leopard Gecko sleep standing up, while Wilma, the American Toad is chilling on a stone and Fireball, the Red-bellied Newt hides from humans. Nestled under a log is Sunny, the Albino Corn Snake and in her cute little den is Zoe, the Domestic Short-Haired Rabbit. Not to be forgotten are the pair of Goldfish named Bryce and Patriot. While not gold in color, they are comical to watch in their glorious tank.
The children’s room is lovingly decorated with families in mind. A painting of birds, portraits of animals and butterflies on the walls, and the ceiling quietly adorned with a night starlit sky. The tank filled with a pleco fish, snail, and 2 African dwarf frogs puzzled my family. The card did say “Can you find these animals? ” The answer is no, we couldn’t. I’m sure they were there, but part of the fun was using your thinking caps. Apparently ours were a little rusty. There’s also a neat fish tank with fluorescent colored fish. A hands-on touch table is filled with twigs, buds, and leaves, a table covered in paper for coloring, animal puppets, and shelves filled with puzzles, books and magazines complete the space dedicated to children’s learning. There are child-sized tables and chairs, with a comfy, adult sized wicker chair.
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In the main part of the nature center, look for the Critter Sort game. Children can sort animals by the number of legs they have or by classification. It’s a fun, interactive way to connect little ones with their environment. Other items of discovery align the perimeter of the center with examples of animal skulls, shells, bird’s nest eggs, and a Galileo Thermometer. Adults will enjoy learning about the history of the land when observing a timeline listed on a real oak tree ring.
Ethereal elements of nature are brought inside with a stone bench, brick, and wood elements and rocking chairs. An added piece is the simplicity of a window seat tucked inside the entrance. A water fountain and restrooms are located inside the lobby. Outside the nature center is a natural space with flowering plants, trellises, seating area, and a porch swing where families were having lunch. Next door is a small playground along with basketball and tennis courts.
If we lived closer to the Broadlands, this would be a regular stop for us. The impressive building shows their commitment to protecting wildlife and nature for all to share and enjoy.
Photos by Kathleen Molloy.