Early in the morning the animals are just waking up and the park is almost empty. You can watch them eating breakfast and grooming themselves for visitors. I found that most of the animals were up and walking around this time of day, and the light was good for pictures. The paths are shaded for an enjoyable visit all day, but bring bottled water anyway.
The main building starts off with a “Touch Me” exhibit where visitors can feel bear fur, feathers, tree bark and other neat things. Next are the snake tanks – an eastern kingsnake and others are right at eye level so you can see more of them than you ever wanted to! Kids love the salamanders and spiders that are down at their height. The next room is dark with the rattlesnake and copperhead exhibits, along with a tank of bluegill and small mouth bass.
The river otters are the first animals you see outside. The “World Underground” is a simulated limestone cave complete with stalagmites and stalactites. Most of the animals in the park are native to this area, but some like the red fox have expanded their territory from north or west. The wolf habitat is being enlarged to give them more room to roam.
The predator habitats have glass viewing windows that allow you to take pictures without a fence in the way. Get your camera close to the glass to avoid reflections and get a correct exposure reading and focus. There is a shelter and benches so you can spend time watching the cougars and bobcats. The black bears still had a full winter coat on when I was there. Hawks and owls watch down from their perches as you pass by, but they are a little hard to photograph.
The educational farm is a favorite with the small children. Sheep and goats and their young allow youngsters to pet them and feel their thick wool. A hand cleansing station with disinfectant is set up nearby. The Nature Centeris just an all around good trip for all ages, whether you want to touch the animals or just photograph them. There is also a shady wildflower walk.
Directions: I-40 to exit 53B; immediate right at exit 8; follow signs – all right turns; to get to the mall from theNatureCenter: stay on 81 after you exit the Center 3 miles, then right after you go under the bridge