- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

On a hot, late-spring morning, a spot by the stream that runs through Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington is a cool place to be — literally.

The nature center’s streams and trails are located in a shady ravine, and it is at least 10 degrees cooler by the water than it is anywhere else in the vicinity. Groups of children and their parents are dangling their toes in the clear, cold water and climbing over the rocks.

“I like to walk in the stream,” says Maria Anderson, 7, enjoying an impromptu picnic with her mother, Linda, and her brother, Luke, 4. The family often strolls through the paths around the nature center, which backs up to their Arlington neighborhood. They enjoy sledding the downhill trails in winter and skipping rocks in the stream in the summer.

“He would stay here and throw 200 rocks if I let him,” Mrs. Anderson says of her young son.

The trails and streams are the big attractions here. A flat, paved trail running alongside the water leads directly to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, a popular spot for bikers. It is common to see cyclists and in-line skaters taking a break in the shade on Long Branch’s trails. The smooth surface makes it a good spot for moms with children in strollers, says nature center naturalist Alonzo Abugattas.

Mulched trails loop through the park, and there is a picnic grove with grills, tables and a pavilion, as well as many benches along the paths.

A pond contains all kinds of local animals, including frogs, turtles, snakes and ducks. The park has a native plant garden, a native fern garden and a butterfly garden.

“We’re a tiny park, but you can really lose yourself, here,” Mr. Abugattas says. “There is a surprising amount of wildlife here, even though we are in Arlington.”

Long Branch is one of two nature centers run by Arlington County. Long Branch has year-round organized programs for visitors of all ages, toddlers through adults, Mr. Abugattas says.

Popular in the summer is the series of family campfires at the nature center, which feature activities, games, songs and fireside treats like s’mores. Other summer activities include a junior ranger series, story times and Snakes Alive! a popular family program that will meet July 9.

Long Branch is still a friendly and accessible place even when nothing is scheduled. The naturalists provide information and troubleshooting for local residents about the plants that grow and animals that may roam their back yards, Mr. Abugattas says. Not sure what that plant is? Bring it by the center and a naturalist will help identify it.

The naturalists at Long Branch also rescue and rehabilitate injured and unwanted wildlife. One year, the center helped 146 turtles overcome injuries and get back to life in the wild, Mr. Abugattas says.

The park has a very child-friendly visitors center. A main room houses turtles, snakes and other small animals in aquariums, and also has an indoor koi pond. In the back of the center is a discovery room featuring nature-themed books, puzzles, puppets and a computer with nature-themed software.

When you go:

Location: Long Branch Nature Center is located at 625 S. Carlin Springs Road in Arlington.

Directions: From the Beltway, take Route 50 west through Arlington. Make a left turn onto Carlin Springs Road. The nature center is on the left, just past Northern Virginia Community Hospital.

Hours: The center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. It is closed on Monday.

Admission: Free. Some special programs have fees.

Parking: Plenty of parking is available in an on-site lot.

More information: 703/228-6535 or visit www.arlingtonva.us and type “Long Branch Nature Center” into the site’s search engine.

Notes:

• The Long Branch Nature Center is one of two nature centers run by Arlington County. It is an excellent place to go for a family hike on the wide, paved trails that lead to and from the Washington & Old Dominion Trail or on the mulched paths in the wooded ravine.

• The nature center has live animals and a discovery room in its visitors center.

• Long Branch has a variety of programs for all ages from toddlers through adults. Programs feature themes of local history, the environment, plants, animals and pond life.

• The park has gardens, streams, a dog run and picnic areas.

Upcoming programs:

• For preschoolers, the center’s Night Lights program will be held at 1:30 p.m. July 5 and 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. July 6 and 7.

• Several family campfires are planned; all campfires begin at 8 p.m.: firefly campfire July 8 and 9, summer campfire July 15 and 16, amphibious campfire July 23, scaly campfire July 30, scoop on poop campfire Aug. 7, and last hurrah campfire Aug. 27.

• A variety of family programs will be offered, including: Snakes Alive! at 4 p.m. July 9, an insect safari at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 27, and Hop to It! a program about frogs and toads at 4 p.m. Aug. 27.


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