Locust Grove provides a natural sanctuary from the bustle of urban life. To enter the Center you have to cross a bridge that is wonderful for young walkers and lends a sense of enchantment to your visit.
Locust Grove is one of the smaller nature centers with only one exhibit room but it’s quite lovely. A reproduction of a white oak seems to break through the ceiling. The branches represent the four seasons. Native fauna such as owls and squirrels surround the naturalistic tree. The room is also home to three live snakes and a tree frog. Nature books, games and blocks will amuse the preschool set. Rockers and a view of the bird feeders will appeal to nursing mothers. The entire room has the feel of a tree house surrounded by windows. If you want to avail yourself of the indoors only, call first for room availability since the room is often closed for programs.
A new back deck is the perfect spot for a cup of coffee or a picnic. It looks out over the Betsy Dotson Memorial Garden of native plants with a charming bronze sculpture of two children and a frog pond circled by bird feeders.
In front of the center is a nature exploration area, where kids can climb a wooden snake and wooden bears, play with wind chimes, build a fort, or play in the sandbox (themed buckets are available to borrow inside the center). Slightly up the hill is a butterfly/hummingbird garden with picnic tables and beyond that is a pavilion with more picnic tables.
What the Center lacks in indoor space it more than makes up for in outdoor space. It has five hiking trails. The longest is the Cabin John Stream Valley Trail at 1.9 miles but the other trails are an easy .2 miles to almost half a mile. Cabin John Stream Valley and Oak Ridge Trails go through the woodland; Upland Meadow Trail has plenty of bluebird boxes and goes through a meadow habitat. Pine Ridge Trail, Cattail and Cabin John Trails all lead to the Cabin John Creek, perfect for stream splashing and wading. The creek even has a small beach. Cattail Trail has lots of steps leading to the stream but is the most pleasant walk; Pine Ridge returns via the less scenic parking lot. None of the trails are stroller or handicapped accessible. If you register for a preschool class, either make sure your child is a good walker or bring your Baby Bjorn.
The Center has a number of annual upcoming special events including a Green Thumb Festival on April 24th and a Mudpie Contest on May 15th.
Classes, Activities and More
The staff of naturalists at Locust Grove hold a variety of story times and programs for toddlers and preschoolers, affordable camps and programs for older children and fun events for the entire family. Register at www.parkpass.org. For a full listing of these activities visit MontgomeryParks.org and search the Locust Grove Nature Center section. If you’re a member of Our Kids, all of their programs are also listed in the weekly newsletter as well as searchable in the Our Kids member database. To rent a camp fire ring, call the center for fees and availability. Naturalists also host school groups, scouts and birthday parties.
Visiting the Nature Center
Locust Grove Nature Center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sundays 12- 4 p.m. but closed to the public if there’s a birthday party (call first). Closed on Mondays and major holidays. Trails open dawn to dusk. There is no charge for admission. Most programs have a nominal admission fee of around $5.
Parking for the center is ample. Picnic tables are located in various places. There are changing tables in both restrooms. A water fountain is outside of the restroom.