As a mother of toddler twins, I’m strategic about where I take my children. They’re sweet kids and well behaved, but their urge to run, in opposite directions, dictates we frequent places with a fence, heavy doors, or some kind of fortified perimeter.
On rainy days or after long walks, one their favorite indoor spots is the Witt Stephens Jr Central Arkansas Nature Center in the River Market. The boys love it because they can see fish, alligators, turtles, and frogs. At an age when they seldom sit still, there is something intoxicating about the slow-moving catfish and the darting trout. They’ll run from one exhibit to the next, fascinated with the turtles’ shell and wrinkly skin, the snake hiding behind the leaves, or the endless duck decoys that line the walls.
I love it because it’s free, there are weekly events like the feeding of the alligators, and, mostly, because they get a chance to see native species up close. After all, these aren’t exotic animals. These are our neighbors, and I figure we could all use a bit more interaction with them. I grew up watching turtles in our yard; I spent time by creeks and ponds. And though we try and make sure our sons have time out in the country, daily life of the city offers far too few opportunities to cross paths with, say, a wandering turtle. I want my children to grow up with more than just an appreciation of nature. I want them to be fascinated by it, recognize their own role in being a good steward, and genuinely care about making sure that we don’t pave over the swamps and woods these animals call home.
I also like the center because, like I say, there’s only so far they can run, which makes the experience exponentially more enjoyable for me.
One of the best parts is the drive home and the constant commentary for days to come. “Mama see that fish, mama? That fish mouth! I’m see that turtle. I’m see that snake! Where frog go, mama?…..”
The center is open Tuesday-Saturday 8:30-4:30 and Sundays 1:00-5:00. Click here to see a schedule of events.