Get acquainted with NH's family-friendly nature preserves
Take a walk on the wild side
Is your family in need of vitamin N? Activities and events held at nature preserves and centers throughout New Hampshire make it easy to add some all-natural fun to your family’s summer. If you are ready to take your kids for a walk on the wild side, here’s where to start your adventure.
On July 1 in Holderness celebrate the opening of StoryWalk, an interactive walk through the woods that uses clues to a story to help kids stay motivated and keep on trekking. This year’s story features Around the Pond: Who's Been Here? in which two kids set off to pick blueberries, but are distracted by telltale signs and items they find along an old deer path around a pond. With each discovery they ask, "Who's been here?" The next stop provides the answer. The entrance to StoryWalk can be found behind the Holderness Post Office; admission is free. StoryWalk is created each year by the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in collaboration with the Holderness Library and Holderness Recreation Department.
Speaking of the Squam Lakes Science Center, it is right up the road in Holderness and worth a visit when you’re in the area. The Center offers interpretive trails through meadows, marshes, and forests with live animal exhibits to be found along the way. At 11:30 a.m. daily throughout the summer, take part in the Up Close with Animals program to meet with a naturalist and learn about some of the Center’s birds and mammals. On Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m., stop by for a fun, interactive session that’s all about turtles.
For a crash course in the great outdoors, the Appalachian Mountain Club offers White Mountains adventures for families throughout the summer, including the popular overnight Zealand Falls hike. From July 8-10, you and your kids can join other families and AMC guides as you hike from the Highland Lodge in Crawford Notch to the Zealand Falls Hut (about a three-hour hike) where families will eat together, attend a family-friendly naturalist talk, and spend the night before making their way back to the lodge. If you have kids with some hiking experience under their belt, this trip is a great way to introduce them to the wonders of the White Mountains. For more information and to sign up, call 466-2727.
Back at sea level, the Seacoast Science Center in Rye connects families with the diverse natural world found along the shoreline of the rocky Gulf of Maine. In the Center’s aquarium area, interactive learning sessions take place every day, Monday through Saturday, at 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. The session at 2:30 p.m. is devoted to learning about the small sharks that live off the New Hampshire coast. And yes, kids get to pet one. On select days, learning sessions take place outside in the tidal pools of Odiorne State Park where the Seacoast Science Center is located. After your visit, continue exploring the coastline or follow the park’s trails through the woods to find new discoveries.
At Great Bay Discovery Center in Greenland, a nature preserve and educational center located on the shores of Great Bay, you and your kids can learn about the large inland estuary formed by the meeting of the region’s rivers with the Atlantic. Inside the Discovery Center, kids can get their hands wet in an estuarine discovery tank as they learn about horseshoe crabs, oysters, mud snails and other inhabitants of the bay. Interactive displays provide information about life in the salt marsh and estuary waters, and the impact of humans on Great Bay. Staff is always on hand to answer questions. Outside, follow the nature trail and boardwalk for an up close look at the estuary’s ever-changing tides.
At the Little Nature Museum in Contoocook kids age nine and older and their parents can learn how to safely observe wildlife up close at the Becoming a Woods Ninja program on July 23. Like ninjas in stealth mode, participants will practice moving about the woods without making a sound so they can watch birds, butterflies, rabbits and other small creatures without scaring them off. Call 746-6121 to register. Afterward, practice what you’ve learned by exploring the Little Nature Museum’s interpretive trail.
Want to learn more about dragonflies? On July 23, head to Ponemah Bog in Amherst (entrance on Rhodora Drive) for a guided walk with dragonfly expert Tom Young. Sponsored by NH Audubon, participants will observe the legions of dragonflies, as well as the butterflies and birds that are drawn to the bog habitat. Come back to explore on your own; all ages are welcome. For more information, call 673-3177.
It’s located just outside Manchester, but the Massabesic Audubon Center in Auburn, with its quiet wooded paths leading to the sparkling waters of Massabesic Lake, feels like a world away. Families are always welcome to stop by and explore. On July 30 take part in Creek Critters, a family learning program that explores the large and very small creatures that live in New Hampshire’s creeks, rivers and streams. A naturalist will lead you on a guided walk, plus you can download a smart phone app to help identify creatures when you’re out in nature on your own. For more information, call 224-9909.
No matter where your adventures in the wild take you, make sure to take your camera along. The 10th annual Wild New Hampshire Photography Contest, sponsored by NH Audubon, begins July 15. Enter your best scenic snaps in any or all of the three categories: wildlife, wild plants and land/waterscapes. A special youth category (under age 18) is incentive to get budding photographers out on the trail to capture nature at its very best.
Jacqueline Tourville is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives on the Seacoast.