Vail Nature Center offers hands-on programs | VailDaily.com

Vail Nature Center offers hands-on programs

Neko Catanzaro
Special to the Daily

Set on seven, scenic acres, the Vail Nature Center offers a tranquil retreat in the heart of Vail. With hands-on programs for every interest, it provides an inviting atmosphere for all ages, open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Set below Vail Valley Drive and bordered by the Gore Creek River, there is a sense of peaceful isolation upon entering the Vail Nature Center grounds.

Originally built in the 1940s, the interpretative center still retains its rustic history and farmhouse charm. With a wooden-shingled roof and vine-covered walls, its surrounding fields grow freely, boasting over 150 wildflower species.

Managed by Walking Mountains and officially operated by the Vail Recreation District, the Vail Nature Center has 12 main programs that run weekly. From casual wildflower and bird walks to fly-fishing, photography, art and stargazing activities, the Vail Nature Center covers a breadth of topics. Programs are hosted by staff naturalists with science and environmental backgrounds, as well as outside specialists.

Set below Vail Valley Drive and bordered by the Gore Creek River, there is a sense of peaceful isolation upon entering the Vail Nature Center grounds.

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Birdwatching paradise

Program Coordinator Hannah Irwin, who has been with the Vail Nature Center for nine years, appreciates not only the ecological diversity but also the escape it provides,

"It's probably my favorite place in the world. It's serene and always changing with the seasons. From one week to the next, there's always something new," she said.

Quaint, wooden birdhouses are dispersed throughout the property and are home to many Rocky Mountain avians.

"People can definitely tick off a few birds from their life list when they visit here," Irwin said.

Northern flickers, black-headed grosbeaks, broad-tailed hummingbirds, Wilson's warblers, and Cassin's finches make frequent fly-bys. Birding is notoriously tricky in Colorado, often requiring multiple hikes to different habitats; however, the Vail Nature Center offers several in one area.

Though there are plenty of birds to see when strolling the grounds, the best perch is inside the nature center. A large, inviting window provides an up close view of multiple bird feeders that receive heavy traffic throughout the day.

The Vail Nature Center building also has several taxidermy exhibits showcasing the area's indigenous species, including a full-sized grizzly bear. Grizzlies were once native to Vail, however, they became extinct due to hunting practices.

Guided excursions

Though there is plenty to learn independently, the nature programs offer a more in depth examination of the surrounding environment.

One perennially popular excursion is the Evening Beaver Pond Tour. Open to all ages, attendees learn about the physical adaptations of beavers and visit an active lodge.

"It's not a guarantee, but more times than not we see a beaver," said naturalist Marshall Kohls, who runs the Beaver Pond and Fly Fishing trips.

Art in Nature is another favorite and open to children ages 6-13. Instructor Kay Cochran balances educational activities with outdoor exploration, adapting her lessons for all skill levels.

"Here there is space for every type of personality. The structure is fluid and this is the perfect place for fluid," she said. Topics change weekly, and multiple week attendance is not required.

The small group size, focused attention and flexible registration appealed to Avon resident Julie Connary, whose 9-year-old daughter has a full sports schedule and is unable to commit to summer camps.

"We've had good success with Walking Mountain programs in the past. I felt very comfortable signing her up," Connary said.

For wilderness seekers who prefer to explore solo, the Vail Nature Center's four interpretive trails provide a wealth of material on the local ecology. On Sundays, the center has an informational booth at the Vail Farmers' Market & Art Show with drop-in tours. Groups are led by Vail Nature Center naturalists and follow the creekside to the main property.

A rural feast, the Vail Nature Center delivers a wilderness experience without the backcountry hike. Whether you're a traveler or a local, it does not matter what program or trail you choose, the Vail Nature Center is a sensory treat, its only chaos is the natural chaos of the wildlife.

For more information, call 970-479-2291 or visit walkingmountains.org/vnc. Programs have limited spots and registration is recommended. Discounts are available for VRD taxpayers.

Vail Nature Center

Where: 601 Vail Valley Dr., Vail

Hours: Daily 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., trails open during daylight hours

Cost: Programs range $5-45, donations for Farmer’s Market tours

Getting there: Vail bike path, in-town bus (Vail Soccer Field stop)

Parking: Vail Soccer Fields

Pick for adults: Evening Beaver Pond Tour (Mondays, Thursdays, 7-8:30 p.m.)

Pick for Children: Learn to Think Like a Trout: Fly Fishing for Kids, (Thursdays, 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.)

Pick for families: S’mores and More: Family Campfire (Wednesdays, Fridays, 7-8:30 p.m.)

More info: Call 970-479-2291 or visit walkingmountains.org/vnc.