This is the first in a new series of posts on the 2nd and 4th Fridays of each month that will highlight great places to go in the Portland region for a particular nature activity.
Where to go: to visit a nature center
Portland and its surrounding region have so much to offer in the way of natural areas to bring your kids to explore and play in nature. From up in the mountains down through through urban parks and all the way to the Pacific coast, those of us living here are truly fortunate at the variety of outdoor experiences we can have. The region also has many great places to go for nature interpretation, where we can learn more about what we see on the trails. This post will share about the region’s nature centers and other facilities with environmental education opportunities. The provided links will go to their websites where you can find basic visitor information such as hours of operations and directions.
In the Portland metro region:
Audubon Society of Portland – Located off of NW Cornell Rd. and nestled next to Forest Park, the Audubon Society of Portland offers a unique nature experience in the city. While the nature store is fun to peruse whether or not you have extra cash to spend , the bulk of your visit should be spent on the trails in the 150-acre nature sanctuary looking for birds and wildlife around Balch Creek and visiting their various education birds at the Wildlife Care Center. From Julio the Great Horned Owl and Ruby the Turkey Vulture to Aristophanes the Raven and Jack and Lillie, a pair of American Kestrels, kids will love the opportunity to get a close-up look at some striking native birds. Also, through the windows of the care center, you might have a chance at seeing Audubon volunteers helping other birds that have been brought in for care. The Audubon Society of Portland offers nature programming throughout the year, including summer, winter, and spring break camps, nature nights featuring talks by local authors, volunteer-led bird outings around the region, and special education events. Sign up for their email newsletter and like their Facebook page. Better join, become a member!
Jackson Bottom Wetlands Education Center – The Jackson Bottom Wetlands Education Center in Hillsboro offers a wealth of learning about the flora and fauna of its namesake natural area, the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve. Visitors to the preserve pass by the Education Center as they access the trails. It’s worth a bit of time to step in to look at the nature exhibits, including a beautiful display showcasing a full bald eagle’s nest that was saved when a tree at Fernhill Wetlands in Forest Grove had to come down. The interactive exhibits are great for kids, and the center also has a small nature store. A large covered deck overlooks the preserve, and is a perfect spot for a picnic lunch. The Education Center offers a variety of nature programs throughout the year.
Tryon Creek State Natural Area – The Friends of Tryon Creek operate a charming Nature Center in the largely forested, 645-acre Tryon Creek State Natural Area in SW Portland. Stop in to the center before or after a hike in the many miles of trails (many crossing Tryon or other creeks – kids just love bridges! Perfect places to play “Poohsticks”) to learn about the park’s plants, animals, and habitats in which they live. The center has many interpretive displays, including hands-on ones for kids. A library and coloring area are great for more quiet time, and a store provides nature items, the purchase of which will benefit the park’s mission to connect people to nature. The Friends offer a variety of nature programming throughout the year, including regular ranger programs, story times, and summer, winter, and spring break camps. And kids ages 6-12 can become junior rangers here through the Oregon State Parks program. Families can enjoy the annual Trillium Festival and Owl Fest. They also have a variety of self-guided activities on their website you can print out and bring with you. Sign up for their email newsletter and like their Facebook page.
Tualatin Hills Nature Center – The Nature Center at Tualatin Hills Nature Park provides interpretation of urban natural history for visitors to this 220-acre forested and wetland park in the middle of Beaverton (near Nike). Before or after hitting the kid-friendly trails in the park, kids will enjoy checking out some exhibits, including an awesome digital screen microscope and a nature kaleidoscope just outside the center in the native plant garden. Inside there is a library for taking a break (with a gas fireplace for the winter) and a nature store. Tualatin Hills Nature Center offers nature programming throughout the year, including summer, winter, and spring break camps, preschool and family programs, the Nature Mobile, and special events such as Newt Day every October. Checking the seasonal activity guide for THPRD is the best way to learn the full details of current programs. You can also print out seasonal nature scavenger hunt sheets to bring to the park (find those here, in the right column). Like their Facebook page.
Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge – Visitors to the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge in Sherwood can devote part of their time away from the trails to the beautiful diorama displays in the Wildlife Center – there are animal models throughout making a fun activity for kids to spot them all. The displays also tell of the history of the land and about the national wildlife refuge system. Run by the Friends of the Refuge, families can get their questions answered by volunteers, check out the large nature store Nature’s Overlook, and see what is to be spotted from a birder’s scope that looks out onto the refuge. The Friends of the Refuge offer nature programming throughout the year, such as guided morning or evening nature walks, summer camps, and the Tualatin River Bird Festival every May. Sign up for their email newsletter and like their Facebook page.
World Forestry Center – Located in Washington Square next to the Oregon Zoo and Portland Children’s Museum, the admission-based World Forestry Center‘s Discovery Museum offers hands-on exhibits and displays about the importance of trees to humans and sustainable forestry in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Highlights include having your photo taken in a river rafting simulation, a chairlift that takes you vertically up to a tree canopy, and a forest machine to sit in and pretend to be controlling. The Museum also has an art gallery, film theater, and nature store. Sign up for their email newsletter and like their Facebook page. Admission is discounted to $3 on the first Thursday of every month.
In Vancouver, WA:
Columbia Springs – On SE Evergreen Hwy just east of I-205, Columbia Springs has trout hatcheries, a natural area with trails, and an education center which offers “events, programs, and workshops to teach people of all ages surprising, amazing things about nature, and the practical ways we can protect this shared treasure.” There are guided nature walks on the third Thursday of most months, an annual Kids Fishing Festival in May, and an annual Family Nature Fest in October. Learn about all of their programming here. Sign up for their email newsletter and like their Facebook page.
Water Resources Education Center – On SE Columbia Hwy just east of I-5, the City of Vancouver’s Water Resources Education Center provides opportunities for “exploring and experiencing water, nature and the environment” through interactive exhibit and hands-on activities. Children can see aquaria swimming with fish and little ones can play in the toddler-friendly Puddles Place. Outside the center there are native plant gardens and a wetland to explore. Second Saturday programs explore different topics each month, and there is an annual celebration in September to celebrate sturgeons. Like their Facebook page.
A little farther out:
L.L. Stub Stewart State Park in Buxton has a Discovery Depot to learn about the park’s flora, fauna, and history; the Tillamook Forest Center in the Tillamook National Forest interprets forest natural history and forestry management in the region, and includes a 40-ft lookout tower; the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum in The Dalles is a museum, not a nature center, but if you have kids interested in prehistoric mammals, this is a must; and the Avery House Nature Center in Corvallis provides broad-based environmental education programs.
A nature center is proposed for Forest Park, an education center will open in the near future at the Oregon Zoo, a visitor center at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington is in the early stages of planning, and an education center at West Eugene Wetlands in Eugene is in the works.
* If I have missed any places you think should be included in this post, comment below or contact me at michaeldavidbarton AT gmail DOT com. Thank you.