As the summer is coming to an end and the flurry of back to school activities begins, I could not help but feel a need to try to relish these dwindling warm days and late sunsets. Exploring nature for me can be not just a form of exercise but also a great way to calm the mind. The thing is, nature doesn't demand anything from you — it is just there, waiting to be explored and can be enjoyed without even thinking. With this craving for the outdoors, my first thought was a trip to Irvine Nature Center. The drive wasn't a long one; it is centrally located in Owings Mills on Garrison Forest Road. With over 116 acres of land to explore, learn and enjoy, just entering the threshold brings me serenity.
Irvine Nature Center was founded as a nonprofit in 1975 at St. Timothy's School in Stevenson by Olivia Irvine Dodge. She was invested in the importance of preserving natural ecology and providing environmental education for children. In August of 2000, Maryland donated 116 acres on Garrison Forest Road to Irvine. It is surrounded by an additional 1,200 acres of land protected by conservation laws. Irvine's land includes open wetlands, upland forest, meadow and forested wetlands, and includes the headwaters of the Jones Falls and Gwynn's Falls watersheds. This variety of terrain provides exciting exploring as well as breathtaking views.
As you pull down the drive to Irvine, the first thing you will see is the Irvine Environmental Education Building. Inside hosts an array of interactive exhibits that both children and adults can learn from and enjoy. The displays are broken down to represent the woodland, wetland and meadows terrain. My favorite is the Woods at Night exhibit. It contains narration with nighttime sounds and animals in a darkened room. A light moves around and shows you all of the nocturnal animals in our region. It is so realistic, my son forgot we were in the nature center. There are also over 20 species of animals to see and learn about in the center. The turtles are a blast to watch swimming all over their tanks. There is also a bright, inviting kids' corner for the little ones to hang out, explore and read.
After some hands-on learning about the natural resources and wildlife in our region, the exploring can begin. I find this a splendid way to relate the meaning of conservation and the importance of wildlife to the enjoyment of nature. At Irvine, this begins with miles of hiking paths. Each time we go to the center, we explore a different area and are always enlightened by the beautiful surroundings as well as the exhibits along the way. My son enjoys going to the aviary exhibit to visit the barred owl, as well as sitting in the wildlife blind. This is a shelter that hikers can sit in that makes them "invisible" to wildlife at the center. We had a deer come just a few feet away from us without seeing us at all. We could have sat there for hours.
Nestled along one of the trails through a set of wooden gates sits a marvelous wildlife garden. I don't know how many times while on a hike somewhere, I have seen an interesting plant or tree I wished I could identify. This garden makes that possible. It resembles the rest of the woodland area you are hiking through and contains beautiful plants and flowers native to Maryland that are labeled with the name or species. There are also benches available for visitors to sit, enjoy and decompress.
After exploring the owls, the wildlife garden, the Native American site, outdoor classrooms and beehives, the highlight of all of my visits to Irvine is coming out of the woods at the end of the trail to the overlook. The woods open to a majestic view of the meadow and tree line of Caves Valley. The peaceful silence, birds chirping and the rolling hills bring me the serenity I seek in nature. There is a gazebo to sit in to enjoy the view, but my son and I prefer to sit on the bench in the grass and take in all of what nature has to offer, without even thinking.
Irvine nature center is free to the public and is funded by donations and memberships. This center is truly a "natural gem" right out in our backyard.
Kelly Scible is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.