The Anita Purves Nature Center is an oasis for Champaign-Urbana families. In the summer, it is a cool place to escape the heat outdoors, while still learning about them. In the winter, it is an escape from cabin fever, a place to enjoy nature while learning about its mysteries. It is an excellent way to spend a rainy day, too. And it is completely FREE!
My 3-year-old and I took a recent visit to the Nature Center and primarily focused on the animals during our stay. We got an up-close look at the latest addition, a red screech owl that was placed there in June 2012 (and awaiting a name at this writing). We checked out the snakes, turtles and the active working beehive.
We also put together a puzzle, watched birds from the bird watch station, and took a walk in Busey Woods (more on that in a minute).
A wonderful characteristic of Anita Purves is that can be adapted to be appropriate for all ages. The toddlers and preschoolers can enjoy (as we did) the live animals, looking at animal artifacts, and watching the birds in the wildlife observation room. We also put together a floor puzzle.
But there are plenty of activities that are attractive to school-age children. Budding naturalists can learn how to observe and record observations of nature. There is plenty to read and absorb, particularly about Illinois wildlife, native plants and animals, and the ecosystem. The hands-on displays help kids feel that they are a part of nature too.
A highlight of our trip was a visit in Busey Woods, the 59-acre forest preserve adjacent to the Center. Surrounded by old, tall trees and a blanket of forest made us feel as if we had been transported away from home, to another place far away. We even saw a deer as we shared a special snack on one of the many benches on the boardwalk.
The Busey Woods boardwalk is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers; a grant for a new path between the Nature Center building and the boardwalk, completed in fall 2011, means it is truly accessible now. There are also great didactics full of educational information along the way of the boardwalk. There are other “off-road” walking trails as well.
A few other characteristics of Anita Purves:
- the Audubon Nature Shop. Buy books, puppets, small toys and binoculars at the small gift shop within the center. Champaign County Audubon Society, this nonprofit shop donates all proceeds to local environmental education or conservation projects.
- Check out the calendar of events – Anita Purves hosts “Outdoor Little School” for preschoolers; night hikes for the family; and other specialized programming for children. Some require advance registration, so be on the lookout.
- Anita Purves also hosts fantastic birthday parties.
- The Park District has receptacles for a lot of difficult-to-recycle items, including batteries, at Anita Purves.
If you go:
Where: Urbana: Located at the north end of Crystal Lake Park, 1505 N. Broadway.
When: Open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on Sundays. Closes annually in August (this year Aug. 20-25) for cleaning.
What to bring: Admission is Free! Bring a picnic if you want to have lunch or a snack in one of the lovely locations outside of the building or in Busey Woods – there is no food to purchase on site. Depending on the age of the child and the weather, plan on spending 30 minutes – 2 hours.
Tell us: why do you love Anita Purves Nature Center and/or Busey Woods?