There is something for everyone at the Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center. Go on, discover Alexandria’s wild side!
Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center is situated in the West End of Alexandria. I like to think of it as a hidden gem in the City of Alexandria because a lot of people don’t know about it. The nature center is attached to William Ramsey Elementary School.
Surprisingly my family and I were the only ones there on a Sunday afternoon. When we walked through the automatic door, we signed our names and were struck by the mounted black bear at the center of the room. My four year old began exploring at the Touch Table then got up close to the tanks in the “Who Lives Here?” exhibit featuring a Snapping Turtle, Box Turtle, Skink and Spotted Salamander. She spent a long time playing with the model animals set up at a nearby table.
Above the exhibit cases is Mary Anne Warner’s oil mural, “Wildlife of the Dora Kelley Nature Park.” I found the interpretive exhibits on local geology, prehistory and history of the area fascinating. There were 19th century artifacts recovered during the excavation of a log cabin. Nature’s Gems are filled with rocks like Jasper and Blue Quartz, along with tools used by a geologist such as a hammer and pocket magnifier.
There were three kinds of rat snakes present, a wood frog and even a millipede. A greenhouse with tropical rainforest plants beckons if only to see the great, Green Iguana. Somehow we kept gravitating toward the Eastern Box Turtle at the back of center. The turtle was just so friendly. The only downside was that the website said there was an aquarium with native fish from Holmes Run. There was only one fish and he was tucked away in another room. There is also an exhibit on Alexandria’s birds of prey, a small library, science lab and activity room used for classes.
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Dora Kelley Nature Park
Outside the Nature Center lies Dora Kelley Nature Park, a 50-acre wildlife sanctuary with a one-mile long nature trail that meanders along streams, wooded hills, and freshwater marshland. A self-guided brochure, available at the Nature Center, interprets the natural features of the park using numbered signposts along the trail. The entrance to the park is a steep staircase covered in wood chips. Given that we were not wearing proper footwear, we skipped this portion of the trip. However, there is a paved bike trail connecting Sanger Ave. and Van Dorn St. through the park which is ADA accessible.
Hours and More
The Nature Center is open year round Wednesdays to Saturdays from 10am through 5pm. From April to November they are open on Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. They are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The center is free to visit. The facility is available for birthday parties for ages 4 to 12 and is great for Girl & Boy Scouts and school field trips. They also offer a spring break and summer camp. New this year is an afterschool program open to children ages 5 to 10. They are always volunteer opportunities available. Parking for the center is ample and located right out in front of the building. The entrance is stroller and handicap accessible. There are clean restroom facilities and a drinking fountain located inside the entrance. The Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center offers year-round programs and exhibits on Alexandria’s human and natural history. For more information, or to make reservations for a nature program, call 703.746.5559.
Photo by Kathleen Molloy