Tacoma Nature Center Educates Families on Free Nature Hikes

Family nature walks with the Tacoma Nature Center are a great way to get outside and learn.


By Jennifer Crain

AIM physical therapyWhen I put my 10-year-old daughter to bed on Saturday night, she said, in a confidential tone, “The nature hike was more fun than I thought it would be.”

My kids have co-habitated with Douglas firs and vine maples for as far back as they can remember. And we frequent a short nature trail around the corner from our house. Still, they usually groan when we head for a nature preserve.

But the family nature walk at Wapato Hills Park, led by Brianna Charbonnel of The Tacoma Nature Center, was fodder for conversation on the whole drive home.

tacoma nature centerIt was interesting for me, too. I’d never noticed the Western Scrub-Jays before – my eye is always drawn to the flashier, crested Steller’s Jays. And I didn’t know that if male birds of a particular species look similar to the females, without the showy coloring of, say, a mallard or a robin, it means they mate for life.

Charbonnel began the tour by telling the group of ten participants that the hill in the park is a drumlin, the geologic term for a low mound comprised of dirt that was deposited by glacial ice. This one is unusual because it has a wetland at the top.

Sure enough, Charbonnel pointed out a cottonwood near the beginning of the quarter-mile loop trail; proof, she said, that the soil is wet. We walked on but didn’t make it all the way around the loop. There were too many nests to count and birds to identify.

My kids were engaged in part because Charbonnel and her colleague, Rachael Mueller from Northwest Trek, embrace the use of technology. Charbonnel pulled up images of the birds we could see and hear in the trees above us on her tablet, using the Audubon Society’s bird field guide app to show the kids close-ups and play clips of their songs. Mueller recruited the kids to help her do some NatureMapping – every time they observed any living thing (worm, bee, crow, finch) she asked them to tell her about it so she could enter the data. Soon, they were jogging over to her (“I just saw four or five beetles!”) and Mueller was guiding them as they took turns recording their own sightings. The program, through the Washington NatureMapping Foundation, automatically enters a time/date stamp and a GPS location every time you enter data. Cool.

TacomaNatureCenter_binoculars_Crain_10-13The Tacoma Nature Center, a part of Metro Parks Tacoma, is a 71-acre preserve that includes Snake Lake and its surrounding wetlands and forest. They have two miles of nature trails and a collection of small animals to observe, as well.

Charbonnel is the naturalist for the Family Nature Walk Series, a free program that aims to educate the public and encourage the positive use of Tacoma’s parks, particularly those that are underused. The whole series, which runs from October through May, includes 21 nature walks at six parks and the nature center. Two walks are scheduled for this Saturday, November 2, at 10 a.m. (Titlow Lodge) and 1 p.m. (McKinley Park). After these, the walks will resume in mid-January. Register and get more information on their family programs page.

Charbonnel is an enthusiastic naturalist who is gifted with kids. A graduate of the University of Denver, where she double-majored in Environmental Science and International Studies, Charbonnel says her passion is conservation.

It’s easy to catch the bug. Going on just one of her walks has made our family more passionate and observant about the natural world we can see, even from the sidewalks in our own neighborhood.

tacoma nature center

Tacoma Nature Center

1919 South Tyler Street

Tacoma, WA 98405

(253) 591-6439

Visit them on their Facebook page.

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