6 Fun & Educational Nature Centers

From lush woodlands to the abundant ecosystem of an ocean habitat, the natural world exists in a delicate balance with the forces that surround it. An immersive experience with such an environment reveals both its beauty and importance. In no particular order, here are a few organizations giving people in-depth opportunities to explore the flora and fauna of the earth.

Starting off the list at #1 is the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center. Located in Long Island, New York, the institution dedicates itself to teaching and inspiring families to become engaged and responsible caretakers of the planet. The Museum serves as a central source of local natural history information with facilities and programming designed for all segments of the public, from the interests of children to those of the scientific community.

Visitors are guided by environmental educators through living, recreated natural habitat exhibits. A Marine Touch Tank allows guests to hold sea stars, crabs, urchins, and whelks. Outside, the location offers the Native Butterfly Garden, Native Wildflower Garden, Educational Pond, Purple Martin nesting gourd site, and the six-mile trail system of the Long Pond Greenbelt. The system features an expanse of interconnected waterholes, as well as woods and wetlands abounding with rare plants, animals, and ecological communities.

At #2, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science Nature Center offers relevant environmental education programs for adults, families, and school children. The Institute partners with leading conservation organizations to promote environmental science field research. Facilities include the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation, songbird aviaries, and raptor enclosures that house hawks, eagles, falcons, owls, and other birds of prey.

The naturally landscaped campus provides ongoing, stimulating educational exhibits and events, as well as interactive bird and reptile programs. Among the areas supported by private donors and local businesses are the Birds Are Dinosaurs display, indoor Forest Exhibit, Adventure Playscape, and the Forest Canopy Walk, where visitors may safely stroll 65 feet above the ground to get a better view of tiny warblers, woodpeckers, and squirrels in their natural habitats.

Coming in at #3, the Stamford Museum and Nature Center is dedicated to the preservation of the natural and agricultural sciences, as well as Connecticut history and art. The institution seeks to inspire creativity and environmental stewardship through exhibitions, programs, and events. Guests can walk over 80 acres of nature trails, discover the Museum's galleries, or visit the Heckscher Farm to see a maple sugar house, organic vegetable garden, open pastures, and a variety of farm animals.

Behind the Overbrook Nature Center, one will find miles of winding walking trails highlighting abundant wildlife, as well as the meandering Poorhouse Brook. Animal encounters may involve wood duck pairs, signs of red fox and whitetail deer, or even a pileated woodpecker. Pools along the trails are home to wood frogs, spotted salamanders, insect larvae, and even a few snakes, turtles, and water birds.

Next at #4 is the Nurture Nature Center. Engaging the public in learning about environmental risks, this Easton, Pennsylvania organization hosts several events, as well as science and art exhibits. Through government funding, staff members engage in regional and national social science research and education projects focused on flooding, the climate, ecosystems, and land use.

One of the features guests may experience is the Interactive Watershed Exhibit. The augmented reality sandbox allows participants to physically modify a sand surface and create rain, in order to learn about watershed processes and how the liquid moves through a landscape. A colored surface and contour lines teach topography and map reading. In the gallery, themed art exhibitions reflect the area’s natural environment, as well as other science and social issues.

In at #5, Holliday Park is located north of Downtown Indianapolis and encompasses 94 acres of green space. Visitors can explore the Nature Center, have fun at the playgrounds, hike picturesque trails, or take a stroll around the Holliday Park Ruins. Wooded ravines contain natural springs and wetlands, a pond, a long stretch of the White River, a beech-maple forest, and many species of shrubs, flowers, and native wildlife.

For a more hands-on experience, the professional education staff offers a wide variety of programs, including year-round and seasonal field trips that give students opportunities to explore habitats and ecosystems. Outdoor Yoga at the Ruins, meanwhile, lets participants lay workout mats in front of the repurposed late 19th-century architectural remnants for a guided session.

Lastly, at #6 is Tree Hill Nature Center. This Jacksonville, Florida organization serves as a resource for education on sustainability and the environment, helping to facilitate contact with the local natural habitat. The Center contains a variety of hiking trails, butterfly and hummingbird gardens, and a natural history museum. Tree Hill is home to several species of animals, such as pygmy goats, barred owls, alligators, and opossums.

The Museum includes exhibit animals, hands-on displays about nature, and a Florida Wetland exhibit room. For parties, workshops, and weddings, guests may reserve the Joseph A. Strasser Amphitheater. The open air venue is surrounded by several acres of land and a lush nature trail.