I always find January to be such a dreary time of year. All the sparkly holiday decorations are packed away making mantels and landscapes alike look heartbreakingly bare. There’s often a coat of crusty snow–or more likely ice–covering the ground, sometimes making it difficult to do simple things like stroll down the sidewalk. And then there’s the challenge of finding new and interesting things to do indoors with the kiddos. Well, I’ve found a place to help us beat the winter blahs. A place where you can get a taste of nature and the great outdoors without actually braving the elements. It’s the Eleanor Buck Wolf Nature Center in Wethersfield, Connecticut.
I have probably passed this building dozens of times on my way to other destinations, and it never even occurred to me that it might be a place of interest. Then, last year, as we were searching for fun Halloween activities for our annual guide, I happened to see a flyer for the annual Eleanor Buck Wolf Nature Center Haunted Habitat (a more educational version of a Halloween haunted house). I did a little Googling, er, research, and discovered that the building I had so often ignored actually houses a wide variety of small animals, hosts nature-themed preschool playgroups, offers vacation camps for school-age children plus a whole bunch of other outdoor and indoor nature programs for kids of all ages, and, most importantly, is open to the public just about every day. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make it to the Halloween event, but I knew I had to stop by one day to check this place out.
The Nature Center is located right at the entrance to Mill Woods Park, which, if you’re a dog owner, you might already be familiar with because of its awesome dog park. The entrance is off Prospect Street, down a little side street. Look for the signs below.
This is a really lovely park with lots of green space, benches, and picnic areas. If the weather is nice enough, you can even let the kiddos run around a bit before or after your tour of the Nature Center.
Boo loves to climb steps these days. The steeper, the better.
But there’s also a nice ramp if you need it.
Once inside, you’ll find the space is made up of open rooms housing the exhibits. You may or may not see someone near this counter. It’s okay to wander in even if you don’t immediately see any staff members.
Now technically, the Nature Center does not have a set admission fee. However, a small ($3) donation is requested. As you’ll see, there are a lot of animals to care for and feed, and all that animal food doesn’t grow on trees…Well, actually some of it does, but you know what I mean 🙂
So bring a few bucks in cash. You’ll find the donation box on the counter when you walk in.
If you head straight, you’ll walk right into the Animal Room.
In here you’ll find all kinds of fun friends to visit. Like bunnies:
More cute little fuzzy-wuzzy creatures:
And lots of fine feathered friends:
You can learn their names and more about them from these posters on the wall.
Some of them even talk! Boo had a lovely “conversation” with this Macaw.
There’s also this cute little area off the Animal Room called the Log Cabin where you can get up close and personal with some of the animals (it’s mostly used for the playgroups, etc. but if there is someone on staff who is trained for handling the animals during your visit, you may be able to ask them for a little private show and tell).
There’s also a little sink in the Animal Room in case you need to wash up after an animal encounter.
After we finished visiting with all the furry and feathered creatures, we headed down the hallway to the Exhibit Room.
Here’s where you’ll find all kinds of creatures with scales and shells and slippery skin.
Boo had a great time peering into all the different tanks.
And he especially loved visiting with this tortoise named Sweetie.
On the other side of this room is the exhibit area, where there are usually all kinds of interesting things out on the shelves and tables to explore. Unfortunately, we were there just after their big Halloween shindig, so most of the items had been moved into temporary storage in the corner. But you can get an idea of the kinds of things that will be out on display during your visit.
At the other end of the building is the room where the playgroups are held. When we were there, it was set up with materials for a group coming the next day. There are also books, games, and tables & chairs in here.
There are two great playgroups for 2- and 3-year-olds. The 2-year-old playgroup is called “Animal Ark” and the 3-year-old playgroup is called “Sensory Science.” You can get more information on these playgroups and all the other programs in the Wethersfield Parks & Recreation Brochure (scroll down to page 4). Registration for the winter & spring 2013 sessions began on January 3rd. Hopefully, Boo and I will be able to check out one of these groups for ourselves one day and give you the inside scoop.
Before we headed out I checked out the restroom, which not only has a baby changing station…
But a whole educational panel on what happens after you go. They don’t call this a nature center for nothing! 🙂
It was a nice day, so after our tour of the Nature Center we let Boo run around in the park for a while. And as you can imagine, after all that communing with nature–both indoors and out–he was pretty much asleep in his car seat by the time we pulled out of the parking lot 🙂
So if you’re craving a little taste of the outdoor world even when you can’t be outdoors, head on over to the Eleanor Buck Wolf Nature Center in Wethersfield for a laid-back, educational, and budget-friendly outing that kids of many ages (and their grown-ups) can enjoy year-round.
Mill Woods Park, 156 Prospect Street, Wethersfield, CT 06109
Phone: (860) 529-3075
Get directions here:
Hours & Admission:
Sunday & Monday: Closed; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Thursday: 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Website suggests calling to confirm before visiting.)
Admission is $3 suggested donation. Bring cash.
Tips & Things to Bring:
- The Nature Center is completely stroller-accessible.
- Don’t forget to bring exact change ($3) for the donation box.
- There is a restroom with a baby changing station.
- Check out all the programs for preschool and school-age children in the Winter & Spring 2013 Wethersfield Parks & Recreation Brochure (p.4).
- Programs are open to residents and non-residents of Wethersfield.
- Become a member of the EBW Nature Center for free admission to the Nature Center as well as discounted rates on playgroups and other programs. Click here for more information.
- Host your child’s next birthday party at the Nature Center! Contact the office at (860) 529-3015 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to check availability.
- If you have time, also check out nearby Mikey’s Place Boundless Playground or The Wethersfield Library.
- There is a Friendly’s restaurant nearby at 1045 Silas Deane Highway if you want to grab a quick bite with the kiddos before or after your visit.
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