I know you all have heard this line before – never judge a book by its cover. In this case, never judge a website by its pages. While the Prince George’s County Parks website has often left me scratching my head, every time I’ve plucked my family from Virginia and inserted them into Price George’s, we have always been amused at how much we enjoy the county’s parks.
Our memory isn’t too good as we forgot that we attended Watkins Festival of Lights several years ago. While I blame my age on forgetfulness, our family loved the light show and then remembered seeing the same displays during our daytime visit to the park.
However, this time, our main focus was to visit Watkins Nature Center. I told the two naturalists that I didn’t know they had so many different kinds of animals. There are so many animals here that you don’t need to visit a zoo. At least 28 kinds of animals were counted during my family’s visit.
If you like snakes, they are seven on display. Spread around in different tanks are the East African Sand Boa, Common Black Rat Snake, Corn Snake, Grey-Banded, Eastern, and California King Snakes. My husband was entranced by the very inquisitive Ball Python.
Other reptiles include a Yellow-Throated Plated Lizard, Irian Jaya Blue-Tongued Skink, and an Australian Bearded Dragon. Amphibians include fish, Eastern Grey Tree frogs, Oriental Fire-bellied Toads, and American Toads. There is a small hut decorated in frog wall coverings, along with tanks and a frog observation area where you can see the pond. Turtles include the Eastern Box, Yellow-bellied Slider, and Diamondback Terrapin.
I call this next category the creepy insect group. These are animals I have no desire to see, let along get close to! For your viewing pleasure are a large collection of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, a Rose-Haired Tarantula and Freshwater Leeches. It’s like Arachnophobia meets Stand By Me. Now pass the pie please!
An unusual find was a pair of African Pygmy Hedgehogs. The sisters are nocturnal creatures meaning they only come out at night. They like to burrow under blankets and in their beds. Having never seen a hedgehog in person, I begged the naturalist to wake them from their slumber.
I felt bad, but they were so darn cute. It was only right that I contribute to the donation box, especially since admission is free.
Equally unusual was to see a crow who was enjoying a mouse for lunch, a pair of sleeping Eastern Screech Owls, and an inquisitive American Kestrel bird who is the smallest of the falcon family. Outside is a songbird feeding area, butterfly garden, a neat exhibit of nest boxes used by different wildlife, and a squirrel gym. The surprise for us was to see four birds of prey.
Also known as raptors, these beauties have an ailment making them unable to be released back into the wild. On display is a Barred Owl, Black Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, and Harris’ Hawk. Unfortunately, the cages prevented me from snapping quality pictures.
Inside children can host their own puppet show, play a matching game of the five senses, read books about nature, unveil what hides in a giant tree, what everyday projects are used from trees, learn about the life cycle of frogs, and use binocular to bird watch from the deck of the nature center.
There are programs for children, adults, and families at Watkins Nature Center. Family programs include live animal shows, and creature features. Children’s Programs include puppet shows, nature crafts and cub scout badge workshops. There’s the Small Fry club featuring stories, games, and crafts for the preschool set, and clubs for homeschoolers. Registration is required and activities require a nominal fee.
Watkins Nature Center is a large space that has several rooms including a classroom, workshop, and auditorium. Restrooms have changing stations, a step stool to access the sink, and water fountain. Normal business hours are Monday through Saturday from 8:30am to 5pm; Sundays and holidays 11am to 4 pm. They are closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Residents and non-residents can host their child’s birthday by having a Wild Things Party at Watkins Nature Center. You can even find items for the goody bags in the gift shop. More information can be found online.
More to See and Do
- You can walk to the playground from the nature center or drive to the parking lot. It’s good for all ages to enjoy.
- Across from the playground, the miniature train, carousel, and mini golf are open for a nominal fee during the summer.
- Walk 1/8 of a mile from the playground to the Old Maryland Farm. While it is not a petting zoo, you can say hello to a variety of animals. Admission is free. Check the website for hours of operation. I highly recommend visiting the farm in addition to the nature center.
- Watkins Festival of Lights has already begun setting up their holiday displays which were lit during our visit. On November 22, the park host the 2nd annual Winter Festival of Lights Trot for a Turkey event to help families in need.
Watkins Regional Park offers many activities, but the real gem of the park is the fabulous Watkins Nature Center. Anytime is a great time to visit to see animals, look at the gardens, and to get outside to become one with nature. While walking along the trails before leaving the nature center, my family spotted a raccoon and red-shouldered hawk.
Photos by Kathleen Molloy.