Centers put you in touch with nature


March 21, 2002|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SPRING has sprung. Not that ridiculously mild winter we just had that could pass for early spring - this is the real deal. Now's the time when all the Earth renews itself, and we want to renew our bond with the Earth, to become one with the great outdoors.

With that yearning in mind, we've compiled a list of nature centers around the area that have all sorts of seasonal activities on the horizon.

Want to get up close and personal with birds, bugs, frogs and snakes? No problem.

Hankering to learn how to design a garden, track deer, study the night sky or survey a stream? We know places where you can do that as well.

At these centers, there are also trails to hike and bike on, canoes to paddle and fish to catch. You can make crafts with natural materials and take classes to learn how to improve the environment.

Go by yourself, chaperone the kids or enroll in one of the many "family workshops" offered.

While you're at it, ask about the nature summer camps offered - for kids and adults - because those lazy, hazy days will be here before you know it.

Anita C. Leight Estuary Center, 700 Otter Point Road, Abingdon, 410-612-1688. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The Anita C. Leight Estuary Center is just yards from Harford County's Otter Point Creek, on part of a 600-plus-acre tract of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The center is shared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Harford County government. During the week, state and federal scientists and researchers use the center to conduct continuing experiments and hold workshops and meetings. On the weekends, the estuary center operates as a nature center - albeit one with a focus on water-related ecology.

Visitors can have a picnic near the water and observe water- based wildlife, such as turtles and fish. The estuary center also offers a regular schedule of canoe trips and pontoon rides. Themes of forthcoming trips include enjoying the sunset, looking for animals that live along the creek, and searching for wood ducks and other birds in a nearby marsh.

Volunteers have the opportunity to help with some of the center's many research projects, including growing and planting grasses in the bay and collecting fish-population data.

Coming events

April 13: Exploring the estuary. Take a pontoon ride and indulge in hands-on experiments designed to teach participants about local waterways. 9:30 a.m. Age 8 to adult. $4-$6.

April 20: Annual Great Herp Search. Hike the property in search of amphibians and reptiles ("herps"). Animals are counted and information is gathered for research purposes. 9 a.m. Age 8 and up. Free.

Bear Branch Nature Center, 300 John Owings Road, Westminster, 410-848-2517. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The staff at Bear Branch Nature Center takes full advantage of the center's location in a heavily forested setting. Activities are outdoors whenever possible. Hikes are scheduled for the tiniest trekkers (18 months and up). There are campfires and planetarium shows under real stars, canoeing on Lake Hashawha and a ropes course for kids.

Inside, visitors are greeted by a large tank full of turtles. Snakes, rodents and freshwater fish inhabit other tanks nearby. During the warmer months, bees take up residence in a glass hive. Children can play hide-and-seek in a replica of a large tree trunk and sort through a nature box filled with feathers, antlers, rocks and other items.

Bear Branch is home to a number of monthly kids' clubs and classes - many of which offer hands-on experience.

Learning about stream ecology, for example, means an afternoon spent knee-deep in a nearby stream. A session on frogs means a trip to the pond and lots of quiet time learning to recognize various amphibian songs.

Coming events

April 6: Planetarium Show. Explore the night sky with members of the Westminster Astronomical Society. 7.30 p.m. Age 6 to adult. $1-$2.

April 21: Earthworks Festival. Celebrate Earth Day with environmental presentations, children's crafts, live-animal demonstrations and more. 11 a.m. Free.

Carrie Murray Nature Center, 1901 Ridgetop Road, 410-396-0808. Open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

In the late 1980s, Baltimore Oriole Eddie Murray donated funds for the Carrie Murray Nature Center, which was named in his mother's memory. At the time, Murray said he wanted to give urban youth a chance to learn about the natural environment. Today, the center continues that mission.

Located in Baltimore's Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park, the center is home to a number of animals, including injured birds of prey that were nursed back to health and became permanent residents.

A live-insect zoo features hundreds of native and exotic species, from cockroaches to walking sticks.

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