by Marjorie Rachlin
Looking for a place to go with the kids – or visitors – on a cold day? Try the Nature Center in Rock Creek Park.
There is a planetarium with shows almost every day the center is open, as well as a top-notch exhibit on animals and plants in the park.
It’s open from 9 to 5, Wednesday through Sunday, and it’s just a few minutes away by car, on 5200 Glover Road (go east on Military, and turn right on Glover, at the light near St. John’s school).
When I go, I head straight for the nature exhibit, a set of 30 glass cases which show the fauna and flora of the park. Want to see what a fox or a coyote looks like close up? A spring bluebell in bloom? Each one has its own replica, beautifully done, in an individual case. You can brush up on your tree IDs, or study the many birds, including an eagle in flight and most of the songbirds we know from our yards.
I’m fascinated by the information bulletins on the walls. I thought I was an expert on the park, but there are bulletins about spiders, mushrooms, trees, animals and wildflowers that are new to me.
Snake or turtle, anyone?
For live action, there’s an eastern king snake named Oscar. He’s been sleeping every time I’ve been there.
There are also three different kinds of local turtles. In the tanks are two water turtles and fish you might see in the creek. The eastern box turtle, a land species, has its own case.
Busy Bird Feeder
The bird feeder at the Nature Center gives you a chance to see birds really close, better than our backyard feeders. When I looked out the window I saw a chickadee and a titmouse only three feet away. There’s a never ending stream of birds in and out. Cardinals, nuthatches, juncos and other winter birds take advantage of the free food.
While I was there, Ranger Tony Linworth decided to smear a mix of cornmeal and peanut butter on a nearby tree trunk, to see whether birds or flying squirrels might be interested.
Our Nature Center has the only planetarium in the National Park system, and the local rangers tell me that its shows attract a lot of children. Right now there are two shows per day on Saturday and Sunday. One explores “The Winter Night Sky” and another, “Exploring the Universe,” deals with the sun and the planets. Just walk in, no fee.
Walks, Talks, Events
Go to www.NPS.gov/rocr and click on “Ranger Led Programs” for times and details on planetarium programs and outdoor events. Hikes and historic visits are scheduled from Wednesday to Sunday, most of them designed for children and families.
Saturday, January 26th at 10:00 a.m., children (ages 6 to 12) might like to visit Peirce Mill in “Peirce Mill for Kids.” On Sunday, February 10th at 10:00 a.m., a ranger will lead a short hike to Fort DeRussy, a Civil War fort (ages 9 to adult). And there’s much more on the web site.