If you are looking for a low-key time communing with nature, spend some time at the Walney Visitor Center. Located in Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly, the center is good for little ones while the surrounding area is good for older children and those interested in history.
The nature center is situated in a converted 1780 farmchouse. It is small and not very impressive. When you walk in you will notice stuffed animals native to the area including red foxes, deer and owls. There is a touch table with preserved aquatic insects like a water scorpion and stonefly, a microscope and magnifying glasses.
There are pull-out boxes to learn about the life cycle of a cicada, butterfly, reptile and amphibian. A quiet area in the book is reserved for puzzles and reading books. There are interpretive exhibits on farming and artifacts on crops include a scythe.
There is a tank with turtles and fish and several cages with snakes including the Eastern Kingsnake. A small selection of gifts and beverages along with restrooms are present. There are water fountains both inside and outside, but during the winter, the water is turned off at the outdoor fountain.
There is a classroom and covered picnic pavilion attached to the center which was closed, but looked nice from what I could see. The classroom doubles as a party room which is available for for birthdays. Themes include reptiles and amphibians, owls, Virginia Indians and the Civil War.
Nature related programs are continuously offered at Walney Visitor Center. Young children can participate in the monthly Kids Korner program which features a different theme each month. Ellanor C. Lawrence Park also offers a week long nature camp for kids in the summer. Registration and program fees can be found online.
The walk around the grounds of Walney is definitely worthwhile. Bird feeders and bird boxes are everywhere. You can see swallowtails, eagles and hear the sounds of woodpeckers while learning the history of the Walney House and Farm dating from the 18th to early 20th centuries.
The outbuildings include a butterfly garden, herb garden, icehouse ruins, dairy complex and smokehouse. The smokehouse is the only original outbuilding that remains in the park. The area includes an herb garden and working beehives. This is a sign illustrating caution because the bees are very active.
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Several trails lead from the center through forests, meadows and streams. While the nature center is carpeted inside and stroller accessible, outside is a mixture of paved walkways, grass and gravel. The overall experience left me wanting more. The nature center and adjoining greenhouse was mediocre. While it was nice to see the remnants of what the area was before becoming a park, not everything had signage. There is a type of Indian straw hut and a campfire, but no information about the name or significance of the property.
Know Before You Go
- Be sure to call to make sure the visitor center is open before you head out. Even though the website said they were open, when we arrived, it was closed. A lot of families were disappointed upon arrival. Luckily, we live nearby and were able to return again.
- The center is open 9am to 5pm weekdays, closed Tuesday, and 12 to 5pm weekends and holidays. They are open limited hours in the winter.
- During the summer, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park hosts Arts in the Parks, a free children’s entertainment series held Saturday mornings.
- There are plenty of tables to enjoy an outdoor picnic. If you are in the Chantilly area, make a day of it by visiting nearby Sully Historic Site or Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Center.