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Local Nature Centers in the Dallas Area

When you’re constantly inundated with the rumble of garbage trucks, the wail of police sirens and the omnipresent glow of an iPhone (what word can I make with no vowels?), it’s easy to forget that we’re actually surrounded by nature. But now that Mother Nature has shed her winter coat, there’s no reason not to spend a little quality time taking a walk on the wild side.

LEND A HAND
Get a slice of the Hill Country without taking off down the interstate. The 600-acre Cedar Ridge Preserve features nine miles of trails; native trees; grasses and wildflowers; butterfly gardens; and wild mammals, birds, insects and reptiles. Each month, you can participate in conservation efforts, habitat restoration and educational programs (this month hear Iliana Peña speak about birds). Want to help out CRP and recycle at the same time? Donate your old printer cartridges next time you come by.
The fine print: Regular admission is free; donations are requested. Open 6:30am-8:30pm Tue-Sun (summer hours).
Get there:
7171 Mountain Creek Pkwy., Dallas.
972/709-7784; audubondallas.org/cedarridge.html

STOP AND SMELL THE TULIPS
For those who don’t quite have a green thumb but still love to admire the delicate shapes and floral flavors of a garden, come out to the Dallas Arboretum, where you can see the best tulips “this side of Holland.” Spend a leisurely afternoon exploring 66 acres of colorful gardens, towering trees and lush lawns, just off White Rock Lake. For something more structured, year-round programming includes hands-on science and gardening activities, in addition to music events in the garden. Currently on display is Fairy Tale Castles, a one-of-a-kind exhibit featuring seven castles based on beloved children’s stories such as Aladdin and Jack and the Beanstalk.
The fine print: Admission is $12 adults; $10 seniors; $8 kids 3-12. Each Tuesday, the gardens are open for free (Butterfly House admission is regular price). Open daily 9am-5pm.
Get there:
8525 Garland Rd., Dallas.
214/515-6500; dallasarboretum.org

CALL IT A NIGHT
Pack a bag full of marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers, and make your way over to McKinney’s Erwin Park for a serene night away from the bright city lights. Spend the day taking a walk through fields of wildflowers, skip rocks in the pond, or work up a sweat on 8.8 miles of rugged mountain biking trails. When the sun goes down, set up camp around one of 11 fire rings (reservations required), and roast hot dogs, burgers and of course, s’mores.
The fine print: Fire rings cost $10 per night for McKinney residents; $15 for non-residents. Picnic pavilions cost $30 per day for residents; $50 for non-residents.
Get there:
4300 CR 1006, McKinney.
972/547-2690; mckinneytexas.org

GET REFRESHED
There is no better place to go than Allen’s Connemara Conservancy to experience the land in its natural state: no bikes, no maps, no GPS. The meadow was founded in 1981 for the sole purpose of creating a respite from the urban sprawl, and due to the generous donations of members ever since, it has served its purpose. The availability of water and different land management practices have combined to create a variety of habitats: From the Lower Meadow Wetlands to the Upper Meadow Grasslands, get to know the plants that provide a habitat for the wildlife here, and gain an understanding for the effects of man on our environment.
The fine print: Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. Check website for open house dates and other scheduled events open to the public, such as monthly bird walks.
Get there:
1314 W. McDermott Dr., Ste. 106-812, Allen.
214/351-0990; connemaraconservancy.org

TAKE A HIKE
You don’t have to travel far (or even cross the county line, for that matter) to explore a variety of ecosystems. At Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in Plano, you can explore the Blackland Prairie with its black clay soil; the Riparian Forest with its tangle of trees, shrubs and vines; and the Upland Forest, the more highly elevated and shaded jungle of trees harboring animals such as owls, rabbits, coyotes and bobcats. Pick up an interpretive trail map at the Plano REI store to guide you on your hike. The preserve also has a playground and picnic pavilions.
The fine print: Park is open from 5am-11pm. Hiking is free.
Get there:
6701 W. Parker Rd., Plano.
972/941-7250;
planoparks.org

GET WILD!
For so many creatures native to North Texas, their homes have been paved over by condominiums, shopping malls and school buildings. Luckily, one of the many missions of the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney is to provide for them a refuge and functional ecosystem. The Heard is in the process of restoring a number of habitats that shelter birds, butterflies, ducks, rabbits and more. A variety of programs—from guided nature trails and night hikes to animal presentations—allow you to see these creatures up close. Even more, through the Adopt a Wild Child program you can sponsor one of the sanctuary animals for a year. Don’t miss the Green Living Family Festival this month!
The fine print: Regular admission is $9 for adults and $6 for seniors and kids 3-12; it may vary during special events. Donations are always welcome. Open from 9am-5pm Tue-Sat; 1-5pm Sun.
Get there:
1 Nature Pl., McKinney.
972/562-5566; heardmuseum.org

DISCOVER LIFE
If you look closely enough, what will you find buried in the dirt, or nesting in the trees? How are they all connected? At Texas Discovery Gardens (the first public garden in Texas to be certified 100 percent organic!) you can explore 7.5 acres of plants selected for their benefits in providing a habitat for native wildlife such as butterflies, bugs and birds. Take a camera and go on a garden walk, or stop by the Butterfly House, where you may just catch a butterfly emerging from its pupal form!
The fine print: General admission is $8 adults; $6 seniors; $4 kids 3-11. Open daily from 10am-5pm.
Get there:
3601 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., Dallas.
214/428-7476; texasdiscoverygardens.org

TREK AROUND THE TRINITY
They say the family that plays together … stays together? So play outdoors at the Trinity River Audubon Center, where there is no shortage of activities that will get the whole family in touch with Mother Earth (and the kids won’t even realize they’re learning!). Sign up for a Discover Together Workshop, where you can choose from activities such as bird watching, nature journaling, survival skills or camping basics. Other educational activities for kids include trekking and animal tracking camps. Guests are also welcome to stop by and explore freely. This month, TRAC is taking part in the launch of the Texas Children in Nature Initiative, so join in!
The fine print: Regular admission is $6 adults; $4 seniors; $3 kids 3-12; members free. Workshops are $15 per person. TRAC is open 9am-4pm Tue-Sat; 10am-5pm Sun. Third Thursdays, the center is open until 9pm and admission is free.
Get there:
6500 S. Loop 12, Dallas.
214/398-8722; trinityriveraudubon.org