Metro Atlanta nature centers connect kids and adults to nature

The world is open for exploration at the Elachee Nature Science Center. 
Photo courtesy of the Elachee Nature Science Center.

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The world is open for exploration at the Elachee Nature Science Center. Photo courtesy of the Elachee Nature Science Center.

Centers offer hikes, camps, animals — and butterflies

Throughout metro Atlanta, nature centers provide the whimsey, education and pure fun of being out in nature. Whether through field trips, special events or just informative and interactive exhibits, metro area nature centers are an oasis of learning and fun that celebrate the mysteries and joy of the outdoors.

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A frog fascinates children at the Elachee Nature Science Center. Photo courtesy of the Elachee Nature Science Center.

Credit: handout

A frog fascinates children at the Elachee Nature Science Center. 
Photo courtesy of the Elachee Nature Science Center.

Credit: handout

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A frog fascinates children at the Elachee Nature Science Center. Photo courtesy of the Elachee Nature Science Center.

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

“Our mission is to promote environmental understanding through education and conservation,” said Kim Marks, director of development and communications for the Elachee Nature Science Center in Gainesville. The center is located in one of the state’s largest and most ecologically diverse protected green space. “Folks come to us for programming, field trips, and outreach. We try to connect both adults and children with nature so they can have engaging outdoor experiences.”

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It’s hands-on learning at the Elachee Nature Science Center. Photo courtesy of the Elachee Nature Science Center.

Credit: handout

It’s hands-on learning at the Elachee Nature Science Center. 
Photo courtesy of the Elachee Nature Science Center.

Credit: handout

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It’s hands-on learning at the Elachee Nature Science Center. Photo courtesy of the Elachee Nature Science Center.

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

The June 4-5 23rd annual Flying Colors Butterfly Festival at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, which will celebrate all pollinators, is a sterling example of what nature centers offer. Attendees can see 50 to 100 live butterflies at the Butterfly Encounter, meet with experts, take part in the Migration Game where they learn how butterflies travel to Mexico for the winter, as well as where they live and what they eat. There will also be games and costumes, storytime and food trucks.

Explore5 kid-friendly trails to explore on foot or bikes in Atlanta

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Butterflies greet visitors at the Chattahoochee Nature Center's Butterfly Encounter. Courtesy of the Chattahoochee Nature Center.

Credit: Handout

Butterflies greet visitors at the Chattahoochee Nature Center's Butterfly Encounter. 
Courtesy of the Chattahoochee Nature Center.

Credit: Handout

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Butterflies greet visitors at the Chattahoochee Nature Center's Butterfly Encounter. Courtesy of the Chattahoochee Nature Center.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“The kids are learning but they don’t realize it,” said Tamara Kinmon, senior director of special events and marketing for the Chattahoochee Nature Center. “We show them milkweed plants, which is where butterflies lay their eggs. We tell them that butterflies taste with their feet and if they land on you it’s probably because they like your sweat.Do you know butterflies flap their wings five times every second? Even the parents go ‘Wow!’.”

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Two children perfect their artwork at the Chattahoochee Nature Center’s annual Flying Colors Butterfly Festival at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Courtesy of the Chattahoochee Nature Center.

Credit: Handout

Two children perfect their artwork at the Chattahoochee Nature Center’s annual Flying Colors 
Butterfly Festival at the Chattahoochee Nature Center.
Courtesy of the Chattahoochee Nature Center.

Credit: Handout

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Two children perfect their artwork at the Chattahoochee Nature Center’s annual Flying Colors Butterfly Festival at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Courtesy of the Chattahoochee Nature Center.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The event, which is one of the center’s largest fundraisers, traditionally attracts about 2,500 guests over two days. The tickets are timed to help control crowds but with more than 127 acres at the center, social distancing is not a problem.

The Dunwoody Nature Center attracts more than 30,000 visitors annually, including more than 17,000 children through camps, programs and center visits.

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The grounds at the Dunwoody Nature Center include space for outdoor meetings, programs and sitting around a fireplace. and play in nature at the Dunwoody Nature Center. Courtesy of the Dunwoody Nature Center.

Credit: RAPP

The grounds at the Dunwoody Nature Center include space for outdoor meetings, programs and sitting around a fireplace. and play in nature at the Dunwoody Nature Center. Courtesy of the Dunwoody Nature Center.

Credit: RAPP

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The grounds at the Dunwoody Nature Center include space for outdoor meetings, programs and sitting around a fireplace. and play in nature at the Dunwoody Nature Center. Courtesy of the Dunwoody Nature Center.

Credit: RAPP

Credit: RAPP

Throughout the year, the center offers nature classes for children, special events, overnight camping programs and school outreach programs. Adult offerings include health and wellness classes like yoga and Tai Chi, art classes, night hikes, birding, photography and concerts in the park.

The center’s mission is to “educate children, families and adults of all ages about the natural world and our place in it,” said executive director Nancy Longacre.

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Sometimes you just want a little peace and quiet in the great outdoors. Courtesy of the Dunwoody Nature Center.

Credit: Devon Morgan

Sometimes you just want a little peace and quiet in the great outdoors. 
Courtesy of the Dunwoody Nature Center.

Credit: Devon Morgan

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Sometimes you just want a little peace and quiet in the great outdoors. Courtesy of the Dunwoody Nature Center.

Credit: Devon Morgan

Credit: Devon Morgan

The Elachee center also conducts school field trips and will tailor a hike to the curriculum. “We have live animal rooms with amphibians, lizards, tortoises, turtles and other creatures,” Marks said. “We have an aviary and a great horned owl and beehive,” Before COVID-19, they saw 60,000 to 70,000 visitors a year.

The center itself doesn’t have trails on its grounds, but it is responsible for protecting and preserving more than 1,900 acres within the Chicopee Woods Area Park, with a couple of trails near the center.

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The Elachee Nature Science Center offers classes and field trip showcasing nature and its animals to adults and children. Photo courtesy of the Elachee Nature Science Center.

Credit: handout

The Elachee Nature Science Center offers classes and field trip showcasing nature and its animals to adults and children. 
Photo courtesy of the Elachee Nature Science Center.

Credit: handout

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The Elachee Nature Science Center offers classes and field trip showcasing nature and its animals to adults and children. Photo courtesy of the Elachee Nature Science Center.

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

The Chattahoochee center, like others scattered across the metro area, is resplendent with trails, streams, waterfalls, native plants, trees and beautifully kept grounds. Most of the nature centers have some trails that are suitable for those in wheelchairs or pushing baby strollers.

“Here we have walking trails where you can see all different animal species such as beavers, birds of prey and the staff teaching everyone about respecting the grounds,” Kinmon said. “We just want people to become one with nature.”

Event details

Flying Colors Butterfly Festival. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. June 4 and noon-5 p.m. June 5. $15 for the general public, $12 for Chattahoochee Nature Center members and free for children under 2. 9135 Willeo Road, Roswell. 770-992-2055, chattnaturecenter.org

Nature centers near Atlanta

Chattahoochee Nature Center. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and noon-4 p.m. Sundays. $15 for adults, $11 for seniors and students, $8 and children 3-12 and free for children under 2. 9135 Willeo Road, Roswell. 770-992-2055, chattnaturecenter.org

Elachee Nature Science Center. 1,440-acre nature center with interactive kids’ museum, 12.23-mile hiking trail. 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and trails, 7 a.m.- sunset. Free. Parking fee for hiking at the Chicopee Woods Conservation Area, $5 vehicle and $10 per 15-passenger bus or van. 2125 Elachee Drive, Gainesville. 770-535-1976, elachee.org

Dunwoody Nature Center. 22 acres of walking trails, children’s and adult educational programs, events and playground. 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. Free. 5343 Roberts Drive, Dunwoody. 770-394-3322, dunwoodynature.org

Autrey Mill Nature Preserve & Heritage Center. 46 acres with three miles of trails, animals as well as classes such as goat walking, rock snake art and cook and crafts. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and noon-4 p.m. Sundays. Free. 9770 Autrey Mill Road, Johns Creek. 678-366-3511, autreymill.org.

Mill Creek Nature Center. Owned by the Georgia Wildlife Federation, this 88-acre track has natural and boardwalk pathways, Little Ivy Creek, and an observation tower. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Free. 2355 Mall of Georgia Blvd. Buford. 770-787-7887. gwf.org/millcreek