Even though I am a Virginia native, I love an excuse to leave the state line in search of new adventures. Of the many times I have been in Rockville, I never knew that Meadowside Nature Center existed. Shame on me, but I guess that before I had a child, going to a nature wasn’t on the top of my list. Meadowside Nature Center is a superb gem located in Rock Creek Regional Park.
I find that some nature centers can be lackluster with their offerings, but Meadowside has many choices for those that enjoy reptiles, bird watching, the environment, history, and the outdoors. Let’s start with the indoor fun. The nature center was busy during our Saturday noontime arrival; mainly in part to a bat day celebration. Yes, an event that requires advance registration to learn and celebrate winged critters.
Legacy of the People
The main foyer has two distinctive areas called Legacy of the People. One section displays a wigwam, dugout canoe and animal skins depicting the life of Eastern Woodland Indian families. My daughter hopped in the canoe and demonstrated how Native Americans would crush corn. Another section allows children to experience how Maryland pioneers lived by trying on period clothing, cooking and playing instruments and games.
Legacy of the Land
My daughter’s favorite part of the nature center was the Legacy of the Land exhibit. This new exhibit allows visitors to experience life in the woods inhabited by beavers, deer and with the press of a button, the hoots of an owl. Follow the trail that leads to a cave. Once inside the cave, children realize it leads to a slide, exiting into a room with relics from the old Muncaster Mill. What I like about the exhibit is that it gives an explanation of the purpose of the items. It’s both fun and educational for visitors.
If you are looking for a quieter space, hang out with the critters in the Curiosity Corner. The discovery room is ideal for little ones who want to snuggle with a giant caterpillar toy, build with blocks, make words using magnet boards, enjoy puzzles, puppets, or read a book. There is a small table with a microscope to inspect preserved insects and a great view of birds flocking to feeders outside. As for live animals, there are several kinds of turtles, two corn snakes, Indian Walking Stick insects and Blue Gill fish. There’s also an Eastern Painted Turtle and small Catfish that share a tank in the main foyer.
The Great Outdoors
As I mentioned, there is an area for birdwatching in which my family saw a Woodpecker, Cardinal, several Blue Jays and other species of birds swooping to bird boxes. Use your quiet voice as you follow the Raptor Walkway at the back of the center. Gaze upon a Black Vulture, Screech Owl, Cooper’s Hawk and American Bald Eagle from their cages. Children can compare themselves to the wingspan of resident raptors. A naturalist is on hand every Saturday at 11 a.m. and noon to answer questions. It’s pretty neat to see these un-releasable, majestic creatures up close.
Welcome to the Playspace! This outdoor mecca boasts a giant eagle nest, touch table, perching stumps and plenty of open space. The music wall was a big hit using everyday items to create new sounds. The park also boasts 8 miles of trails. Print a Scavenger Hunt map online and search for plants and animals native to the area.
- Meadowside Nature Center is closed Sundays and Mondays. They are open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free unless you are participating in a registered program.
- In addition to a weekly Nature Explorers preschool program and weekly Raptor Enrichment and Feeding demonstration, Meadowside is popular for birthday parties, scout badge programs and summer camps.
- While the nature center is closed Sundays, come for the outdoor Raptor Festival on May 3rd from noon to 4 p.m. The day includes seeing the resident birds of prey, expert talks, games, crafts, and more. The event is free and registration is not required.
Photos by Kathleen Molloy.