Just across the District of Columbia line in Maryland is a little known nature center in the urban area of Mount Rainier. The Mount Rainier Nature Center doubles as a recreation center and includes a reservable community room, amphitheater, campfire fit and playground. This was the first time I have seen a nature center that also houses a community center.
Since the center serves dual purposes, it was a bit noisy with older kids talking and playing music as they made their way through the nature part and into the adjacent game room. My family visited in the late afternoon when the animals were being fed and appeared content except for the Central Bearded Dragon who was a bit anxious about the noise.
The small nature center is clean, but a bit dated with its décor and selection of art activities for children. The crayons were all broken pieces, the stencil sheets were in disrepair and there were no pieces of paper for coloring. By simply asking the park ranger my child was given a bunch of paper and was happy nonetheless.
However, it does a nice job at what it offers for young visitors. No need to worry about keeping your tots and preschoolers busy. If viewing live animals isn’t of interest to them, there is a great space outfitted with a table and chairs, easel, puzzles, Lincoln logs, electronic toys, tons of books and stuffed animals. A bench adjacent to the play area has a video on rotation about the life of animals.
If you have a child who loves turtles, this nature center is perfect for them. On display are an adult and baby Carolina Terrapin, a Russian Tortoise, Eastern Box Turtle and a bale of swimming turtles. There are two tanks of fish; one of which includes a school of Tiger Barb and a lone Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. Reptiles include a Leopard Gecko, Central Bearded Dragon, Corn Snake and Bald Python.
If you’re lucky, the naturalist will let you pet the Domestic Rabbit. Just don’t plan on snapping a good photo. To keep him from running away, the staff cover his head. Having said that, it’s still a great opportunity to come in close contact with wildlife.
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Kids will get a kick out of the outhouse door that opens to a trail of scat and yes, it even includes poop from the Domestic Rabbit! Also on display is a stuffed fox, and an area with touch and feel shells, wood, rocks, gemstones and feathers. Just outside is a small Courtyard Wildlife Habitat. With the recent snowstorm, all I could see was a small pond, but it looks like a serene space that would be enjoyed in the warmer months ahead.
There are clean restrooms with a changing station in the women’s bathroom and a water fountain. Mount Rainier Nature Center is open Tuesday to Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is free. While it’s not huge and may not offer a lot of variety, Mount Rainier Nature Center is a nice introductory experience for your little explorers.
Photos by Kathleen Molloy.